Government Mafia Structures Plague Venezuela Emigration Process

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The enormous bribery and extortion pressures that Venezuelans face when trying to leave their country legally is further proof that criminal structures are operating within the government, taking advantage of desperate citizens attempting to emigrate.

Bloomberg recently published a price list for a plethora of migration-related services including obtaining and renewing passports, certifying college degrees, obtaining and expunging criminal records or even obtaining a Chilean passport. The list is an example of alleged bribes that Venezuelans need to pay to a so-called “fixer” — “gestor” in Spanish — an intermediary with supposed connections to Venezuela’s government institutions.

“There’s this bribes list making the rounds on WhatsApp, audaciously laying out, restaurant-menu style, the going rates: $4,500 for a passport, $400 for a Chilean visa, $7,000 to erase a criminal record, $100 for the stamp that validates college diplomas. Those are the latest offerings from one of the ‘gestors’ — fixers, roughly translated — who are in hot demand all over town,” wrote Andrew Rosati, the story’s author.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

Rosati added that fixers usually do not advertise their prices so openly due to the illegal nature of what they do.

“But the circulation of even this one list highlights just how widespread bribing has become here,” wrote Rosati.

The story is one of several in a series Bloomberg is publishing to document the corruption and other wrongdoing that Venezuelans face while conducting the day-to-day activities of their lives.

In June, Internal Affairs Minister Néstor Reverol recognized the existence of mafias within the Identification, Migration and Alien Affairs Administration Service (Servicio Administrativo de Identificación, Migración y Extranjería – SAIME). He also acknowledged that such mafias demanded exorbitant fees from their victims to deliver their passports.

Moreover, President Nicolás Maduro has dismissed the institution’s director, Juan Carlos Dugarte.

InSight Crime Analysis

Every Venezuelan citizen needs a passport in order to legally leave the country. But for more than two years, it has been virtually impossible to obtain one through the country’s official government channels.

Desperate to escape Venezuela’s dire economic situation, many citizens are resorting to informal and illegal means of obtaining their passports. While non-governmental organization Transparency Venezuela has registered 195 cases of illegal passport fees since January 2017, a likely high number of unreported cases makes it impossible to nail down a reliable figure.

Meanwhile, SAIME officials and fixers alike are demanding astronomical prices to speed up the process to secure a passport or to skirt it altogether. They charge hopeful emigres anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500. With the official government price as of October set at 7,200 bolivares (approximately $16 when calculating with the black-market exchange rate), such fees are 300 times the actual value of the document. Considering that even the far lower, official cost is out of reach for most Venezuelans, who earn a minimum wage of roughly $3.90 per month, the amount overcharged is particularly oppressive.

Add to that the equally insurmountable cost of certifying a criminal record or college degree, or any of the myriad other documents and procedures that destination countries require to legally live and work within their borders.

SEE ALSO: Restrictions on Venezuela Migrants Boost Criminal Networks

The Venezuelan government seems to have become the primary victimizer of Venezuelan citizens trying to emigrate from the country. Corruption and mafia structures operating inside the institutions responsible for the processing and delivery of the documents needed to leave the country are taking advantage of the desperation of potential migrants.

These criminal structures are so well-oiled that they operate without abatement; when a piece stops functioning, another quickly and easily moves in to replace it. Hence why SAIME’s corruption continues even after its director was fired.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the increasing forced migration of Venezuelans has become a boon to both transnational organized crime through its human smuggling and trafficking operations and to the recruitment efforts of guerrilla and other criminal groups in Colombia.

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