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Migrant Remittances A Big Business In Cash-Starved Venezuela


Video Source >>  Associated Press
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Storyline:

The giant metal pots in the kitchen of a drab Bogota cafeteria are filled with simple dishes like vegetable rice. But Edgary Granadillo’s delicate arrangement of the plates he sets before rushed lunchtime office workers hints at the finer dishes he once served.

The former executive chef at a beach resort in Venezuela once commanded a staff of 65 cooks and made regular appearances on television cooking shows.

Now he is laboring for $10 a day, with one sole aim: to send money back home.

The wages aren’t enough, says Granadillo, 30, his somber eyes keeping a careful eye on a bubbling saucepan of fish head soup.

“People need to rely on a Venezuelan outside the country, who can send something, in order to survive,” Granadillo said.

As the number of Venezuelans fleeing their country’s deepening economic and humanitarian crisis climbs, a burgeoning lifeline for those back home is emerging: remittances.

Skirting strict currency controls, dozens of transfer operations, mostly small-scale businesses run by a handful of exiles entirely online, have opened abroad to help emigres convert their dollars and pesos into Venezuelan bolivars that arrive within minutes into a relative’s local bank account.

The remittances are big business: Independent experts estimate Venezuelans now send at least $1 billion a year to friends and family members that they’ve left behind.

That money is critical at a time when Venezuela’s minimum wage is now worth less than $2 a month, and the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who won a new six-year term Sunday in a contested vote many fear will spur even more to leave, is taking note.

Blaming the operations for feeding devaluation _ and hoping to snag a piece of the pie _ officials recently shut down several exchange houses and announced they would be opening their own.

More than 100 people linked to remittance businesses have been detained in what officials dub “Operation Paper Hands.”

The board of directors of Venezuela’s top private bank, which held many of the remittance accounts, was arrested as part of the sting.

Officials accuse them of speculating on the value of the bolivar by using the black-market exchange rate. The board of directors of Venezuela’s top private bank, which held many of the remittance accounts, was arrested as part of the sting.

Chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab has warned that “new detention centers should be built for this type of crime,” which he said was causing “grave damage” to the nation’s economy.

He added that while many of the business operators might be working from outside the country, avoiding arrest, officials have identified accomplices within Venezuela.

Most remittances sent to Latin America come from migrants in the U.S., who send money to Mexico, Cuba and other nations in Central America and the Caribbean. In 2016, those money transfers valued $74.3 billion _ in some cases, contributing more than 10 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product.

Venezuela historically has been a receptor of migrants, and thus a country people sent remittances from, but now that has changed.

The majority of Venezuelans who leave the country, are doing so in order to send money back to relatives, said Yulia Torres, the founder of an Instagram account called “Venezuelans in Bogota” that has attracted more than 40,000 followers.

“They might not ask you for it,” she said of relatives back home, “but they absolutely need it.”

To keep their accounts flush with bolivars, money changers must wade into Venezuela’s murky black market, where they sell dollars held in accounts abroad at 100 times the official rate, which only state agencies and privileged insiders have access to.

At a typical transfer shop, Venezuelans who operate the business maintain personal bank accounts within the country while opening new ones in foreign currencies abroad.

Migrants in Bogota, for example, would deposit pesos into the business’ Colombian bank account and the exchange operators transfer an equivalent amount of bolivars from their own Venezuelan account to that of the indicated relative.

Ecoanalitica, a Venezuelan financial consulting firm, estimates about $1.1 billion in remittances were transferred to Venezuelans last year, a number analysts say could be higher given the difficulty in calculating informal transactions.

Even on the lower end, that would mean upward of 4 million Venezuelans _ or around 15 percent of the population _ receive help from abroad.

Maduro has repeatedly accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos of waging an economic war against Venezuela by allowing mafias to horde large quantities of bolivars.

While large stockpiles of bolivars have been found as far away as Paraguay, suggesting that criminal networks are speculating on the currency’s value, analysts say Venezuela’s current economic turmoil is driven by poor government decisions, such as issuing new money much faster than there is anything available to spend it on.

Venezuela imposed currency controls in 2003 aimed at halting capital flight, but most economists say they have actually been driving the current financial crisis. Individuals and businesses must apply to receive dollars at the government-set official rate to import goods and cover other transactions.

But except for the public sector and a few privileged insiders, most Venezuelans must turn to the black market, where one dollar currently fetches about 100 times more bolivars than at the official rate.

Using that rate, analysts say Venezuela’s official exchange houses would never be able to compete.

Like many migrants, Granadillo, the chef, makes barely enough money to cover his daily expenses. But in one day of working in Bogota he earns as much as he did in a month in Venezuela.

The little he is able to send back doesn’t go far, but his mother says she’d go hungry without it.

On a recent afternoon, Ana Teresa Rondon, 62, used the money Granadillo sent back to purchase a few peppers, an avocado and 3.5 pounds of chicken she said would need to last a month.

“Without the remittance,” she said after perusing a street stall stocked with bruised bananas, “I wouldn’t be able to buy anything.”

 

 

1. Tight shot of chef chopping up red peppers

2. Venezuelan Chef Edgary Granadillo chopping peppers inside cafeteria kitchen where he works

3. Bubbling pots on stove of cafeteria kitchen

4. Tight shot of chef Granadillo frying peppers at work

5. Granadillo serving soup in bowls inside kitchen

6. Granadillo placing vegetable rice on plates

7. Granadillo walking to send a remittance to relatives in Venezuela

8. Granadillo takes out cash from his wallet that he will be sending to his family members in Caracas

9. Granadillo receives receipt after completing transfer

10. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Edgary Granadillo, Venezuelan chef working in Colombia:

“People need to rely on a Venezuelan outside the country, who can send something, in order to survive.”

11. Granadillo mixed dough to make Venezuelan pastries

12. Tight shot of Venezuelan pastries

VTV – AP CLIENTS ONLY

Caracas – exact date unknown

++4:3++

13. Granadillo makes an appearance on Venezuelan state television

ASSOCIATED PRESS — AP CLIENTS ONLY

Bogota, Colombia – 4 April, 2018

++16:9++

14. Tight shot of stack of Venezuelan bolivares

15. Granadillo on Colombia’s public bus system en route to work

16. Granadillo preparing to exit bus on way to work

17. Scenes of Bogota from outside Granadillo’s bus ride to work

ASSOCIATED PRESS — AP CLIENTS ONLY

Caracas, Venezuela – 3 May, 2018

++16:9++

18. Ana Teresa Rondon shows her cell phone with photo of her son Edgary Granadillo, now in Colombia

19. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Ana Teresa Rondon, mother of Venezuelan migrant:

“It makes me sad that my son has left because no one every wants to be separated from their children.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS – AP CLIENTS ONLY

++File++ San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela – 25 July 2017

++16:9++

20. People standing in a long line to cross into Colombia

21. People getting ready to cross the border from Venezuela into Colombia. On the left, the sign reads (Spanish) “entrance for foreigners” and on the right “entrance for Colombians.”

22. People standing in line to cross into Colombia, sign reading “Simon Bolivar International Bridge”

ASSOCIATED PRESS — AP CLIENTS ONLY

Bogota, Colombia – 23 March, 2018

++16:9++

23. Blogger and Venezuelan migrant Yulia Torres scrolls through her phone, showing a recent remittance transfer

24. Torres on her cell phone

25. Tight of Torres scrolling looking at phone

ASSOCIATED PRESS – AP CLIENTS ONLY

Caracas, Venezuela – 4 May, 2018

++16:9++

26. ++STILLS++ Various still images showing armed members of Venezuela’s military intelligence unit leaving the BOD Bank as part of ongoing criminal probe

VTV – AP CLIENTS ONLY

Caracas – 25 April, 2018

++4:3++

27. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Tarek William Saab, chief prosecutor:

“Through multiple crimes they’ve caused grave damage to the popular economy. And by popular economy, I’m referring to housewives, workers, peasants.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS — AP CLIENTS ONLY

Caracas, Venezuela – 9 May, 2018

++16:9++

28. Ana Teresa Rondon looks through peppers for sale

29. Tight of peppers sold by vendor

30. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Ana Teresa Rondon, mother of Venezuelan migrant:

“Without the remittance I wouldn’t be able to buy anything.”

31. Wide of Ana Teresa Rondon looking through produce

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