While shortages of basic foods, medicines, and toilet paper may be a major societal problem, the people of Venezuela face an even more existential problem: the nation now lacks the materials to meet the soaring demand for new passports – making it almost impossible to leave the socialist utopia.
"People used to move to Venezuela from all over the Americas, Europe and Asia and now they are all trying to leave," Sonia Schott, the former Washington, D.C., correspondent for Venezuelan news network Globovisión, told Fox News.
While estimates of how many passport requests the socialist government received last year vary from between 1.8 million to 3 million, only 300,000 of the elusive documents were doled out.
Everyday, hundreds of people line up outside the passport agency, known as Saime, in the capital of Caracas in the hopes of obtaining one.
It’s an ironic, and yet sad situation, for a country that used to be one of Latin America’s wealthiest and one that was used to seeing people flock to, not away from.
Tomás Páez – author of “The Voice of the Venezuelan Diaspora” – told Bloomberg that since Chávez took power in 1999 nearly 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country and hundreds of thousands are marking their time until they obtains the funds and the passport that will allow them to leave.
Maduro has acknowledged the issue of the chronic shortages in passports and last week launched a new “online” option that will rush a passport to customers within 72 hours for about double the price of waiting in line. The website, however, has crashed numerous times and it is unclear how many passports have been expedited through this process. Saime has stated that the backup in processing passport applications is because the agency lacks enough “materials,” but did not specify what that means. Observers say that while the government may not be able to afford the paper to make the passport. Paper products in the country, including toilet paper, are in short supply in Venezuela. But skeptics think the Maduro government may also be trying to keep people from leaving the beleaguered nation.
“People with the means to get out want to, but the problem is you need a passport and you can’t get it,” Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center told Fox News.
“It’s kind of an excuse by the Venezuelan government that they don’t have materials, because they know the real reason people want a passport is to leave the country.”
Most of Venezuela’s 30 million resident, however, don’t have that kind of money as the monthly minimum wage in the country comes to less than $30 a month on the black market.