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Venezuela

Venezuela US Consular Information Sheet
May 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Venezuela is a medium income country whose economy is dominated by a substantial oil industry.
The political climate in Venezuela is highly polarized and
olatile.
Violent crime is a continuing problem.
Assaults, robberies, and kidnappings occur throughout the country.
Scheduled air service and all-weather roads connect major cities and most regions of the country.
Venezuela’s tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price.
For an in depth country description of Venezuela, please read the Department of State Background Notes on Venezuela.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and a visa or tourist card are required.
Tourist cards are issued on flights from the U.S. to Venezuela for persons staying less than ninety days.
Persons traveling for reasons other than tourism, however, should consult the Venezuelan Embassy or nearest Venezuelan consulate regarding possible visa requirements for their specific purpose of travel.
Venezuelan immigration authorities may require that U.S. passports have at least six months validity remaining from the date of arrival in Venezuela.
Some U.S. citizens have been turned back to the United States if their passports will expire in less than six months. Passports should also be in good condition, as some U.S. citizens have been delayed or detained overnight for having otherwise valid passports in poor condition.
U.S. citizens residing in Venezuela should be careful to obtain legitimate Venezuelan documentation appropriate to their status.
There have been numerous cases in the last several months of U.S. citizens who, having employed intermediaries, received what they believed to be valid Venezuelan resident visas and work permits.
They were subsequently arrested and charged with possessing fraudulent Venezuelan documentation.
ONIDEX, the Venezuelan government agency responsible for immigration documents, has informed the Embassy that the only valid resident visas are those for which the bearer has personally signed at ONIDEX headquarters in Caracas.

Venezuelan law requires Venezuelan citizens to enter and depart Venezuela using Venezuelan passports and Venezuelan immigration authorities are increasingly enforcing this requirement.
In order to comply with U.S. and Venezuelan law, persons who hold dual American-Venezuelan nationality must plan to travel between Venezuela and the United States with valid U.S. and Venezuelan passports.
Please see our information on dual nationality for entry and exit requirements pertaining to dual nationals.
Venezuela's child protection law mandates that minors (under 18) who are citizens or non-citizen residents of Venezuela and who are traveling alone, with only one parent, or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written, notarized authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party.
This authorization must reflect the precise date and time of the travel, including flight and/or other pertinent information.
Without this authorization, immigration authorities will prevent the child's departure from Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Government no longer recognizes blanket or non-specific travel authorizations.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization.
If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Venezuela Embassy or a Venezuelan consulate in the United States.
If documents are prepared in Venezuela, only notarization by a Venezuelan notary is required.
A permission letter prepared outside Venezuela is valid for 90 days.
A permission letter prepared in Venezuela is valid for 60 days.
Travelers entering Venezuela from certain countries are required to have a current yellow fever vaccination certificate.
The Venezuelan government recommends that all travelers, regardless of their country of departure, be vaccinated for yellow fever before entering Venezuela.
Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are also common in some areas and travelers should take precautions to prevent infection.

An exit tax and airport fee must be paid when departing Venezuela by airline.
The exit tax is currently 46 Bolívares Fuertes, and the airport fee is currently 115 Bolívares Fuertes (a total of approximately 75 USD calculated at the official exchange rate). In many instances, especially with non-U.S. airlines, the exit tax and airport fee are not included in the airline ticket price and must be paid separately at the airport upon departure.
Authorities usually require that payment be made in local currency.
Both the departure tax and the airport fee are subject to change with little notice.
Travelers should check with their airlines for the latest information.
For current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, travelers may contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th Street, NW, Washington DC
20007, tel: (202) 342-2214, or visit the Embassy of Venezuela web site at http://www.embavenez-us.org/.
Travelers may also contact the Venezuelan consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, or San Juan.
Additional information about vaccination requirements for travel to Venezuela, as well as to other international destinations, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior.
The country has one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the world.
Armed robberies take place in broad daylight throughout the city, including areas generally presumed safe and frequented by tourists.
A common technique is to choke the victim into unconsciousness and then rob them of all they are carrying.
Well-armed criminal gangs operate with impunity, often setting up fake police checkpoints.
Kidnapping is a particularly serious problem, with more than 1,000 reported during the past year alone.
Investigation of all crime is haphazard and ineffective.
In the case of high-profile killings, the authorities quickly round up suspects, but rarely produce evidence linking these individuals to the crime.
Only a very small percentage of criminals are tried and convicted.

Travel to and from Maiquetía Airport, the international airport serving Caracas, can be dangerous and corruption at the airport itself is rampant.
Travelers at the airport have been victims of personal property theft, as well as mugging and “express kidnapping” in which individuals are taken to make purchases or to withdraw as much money as possible from ATMs, often at gunpoint.
The Embassy has received multiple, credible reports that individuals with what appear to be official uniforms or other credentials are involved in facilitating or perpetrating these crimes.
For this reason, American citizen travelers should be wary of all strangers, even those in official uniform or carrying official identification.
There are also known drug trafficking groups working from the airport.
Travelers should not accept packages from anyone and should keep their luggage with them at all times.

Because of the frequency of robberies at gunpoint, travelers are encouraged to arrive during daylight hours.
If not, travelers should use extra care both within and outside the airport.
The Embassy strongly advises that all arriving passengers make advance plans for transportation from the airport to their place of lodging.
If possible, travelers should arrange to be picked up at the airport by someone who is known to them.
The Embassy has received frequent reports of armed robberies in taxicabs going to and from the airport at Maiquetía.
There is no foolproof method of knowing whether a taxi driver at the airport is reliable.
The fact that a taxi driver presents a credential or drives an automobile with official taxi license plates marked “libre” is no longer an indication of reliability.
Incidents of taxi drivers in Caracas overcharging, robbing, and injuring passengers are common.
Travelers should take care to use radio-dispatched taxis or those from reputable hotels.
Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone lobby or ask hotel, restaurant, or airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company for them.
A list of transportation services used by members of the U.S. Embassy community is available on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://venezuela.usembassy.gov/.
The Embassy does not vouch for the professional ability or integrity of any specific provider.
The list is not meant to be an endorsement by the Department of State or the Embassy.
Likewise, the absence of any individual or company does not imply lack of competence.
While visiting Venezuela, Americans are encouraged to carry as little U.S. currency on them as possible and to avoid wearing expensive or flashy watches and jewelry.
Due to the poor security situation, the Embassy does not recommend changing money at the international airport.
Visitors should bring a major credit card, but should be aware of widespread pilfering of credit card data to make unauthorized transactions.
Travelers’ checks are not recommended as they are honored in only a few locations.
It is possible to exchange U.S. currency at approved exchange offices near major hotel chains in Caracas (personal checks are not accepted) and at commercial banks with some restrictions.
Due to currency regulations, hotels cannot provide currency exchange.
There are ATM machines throughout Venezuela.
Malfunctions are common, however, and travelers should be careful to use only those in well-lit public places.
ATM data has also been hacked and used to make unauthorized withdrawals from user’s accounts.
Popular tourist attractions, such as the Avila National Park, are increasingly associated with violent crime.
Americans planning to participate in outdoor activities in potentially isolated areas are strongly urged to travel in groups of five or more and to provide family or friends with their itineraries prior to departure.
Cross-border violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, smuggling, and cattle-rustling occur frequently in areas along the 1,000-mile long border between Venezuela and Colombia.
Some kidnap victims have been released after ransom payments, while others have been murdered.
In many cases, Colombian terrorists are believed to be the perpetrators.
Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) has had a long history of kidnapping for ransom, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are active in the kidnapping trade.
Common criminals are also increasingly involved in kidnappings, either dealing with victim's families directly or selling the victim to terrorist groups.

In-country travel by U.S. Embassy employees, both official and private, within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border, is prohibited.
The State Department warns American citizens not to travel within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border.
U.S. citizens who elect to visit areas along the border region with Colombia despite this warning, apart from the Colombian terrorist threat, could encounter Venezuelan military-controlled areas and may be subject to search and arrest.
The U.S. Embassy must approve in advance the official travel to Venezuela of all U.S. Government personnel.
Private travel by U.S. military personnel to Venezuela requires advance approval by the U.S. Embassy.
Please consult the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide at https://www.fcg.pentagon.mil/ for further information.
Non-military employees of the U.S. Government do not need Embassy approval for private travel.
Political marches and demonstrations are frequent in Caracas and often pass without incident.
Nevertheless, travelers should be aware that violence, including exchanges of gunfire, has occurred at political demonstrations in the past.
Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas.
Marches generally occur on busy thoroughfares, significantly impacting traffic.
Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, have not in the past been generally affected by protest actions.
The city of Merida, however, a major tourist destination in the Andes, has been the scene of frequent student demonstrations, some of them violent, including the use of firearms.
Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television.
Visitors should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers.
As circumstances warrant, the Embassy sends out messages to U.S. citizens who have registered on-line.
These messages are also posted on the U.S. Citizens page of the Embassy’s web site at http://venezuela.usembassy.gov/.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, no matter where they occur.
Harassment of U.S. citizens by pro-government groups, Venezuelan airport authorities, and some segments of the police occurs but is quite limited. Venezuela’s most senior leaders, including President Chavez, regularly express anti-American sentiment.
The Venezuelan government’s rhetoric against the U.S. government, its American culture and institutions, has affected attitudes in what used to be one of the most pro-American countries in the hemisphere.

Venezuela is an earthquake-prone country and is occasionally subject to torrential rains, which can cause major disasters such as the one in Vargas State in 1999.
Travelers who intend to rent or purchase long-term housing in Venezuela should choose structures designed for earthquake resistance.
Such individuals may wish to seek professional assistance from an architect or civil/structural engineer, as does the Embassy, when renting or purchasing a house or apartment in Venezuela.
Americans already housed in such premises are also encouraged to seek a professional structural assessment of their housing.

For further information on seismic activity, you may wish to visit:

1. The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) web site at http://mceer.buffalo.edu/infoservice/Quakeline_Database/default.asp
2. The Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program web site at www.seismo.ethz.ch/GSHAP
3. The Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project web site at www.oas.org/CDMP
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts including the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Venezuela and its capital, Caracas, have one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world.
Virtually all murders go unsolved.
The poor neighborhoods that cover the hills around Caracas are extremely dangerous.
These areas are seldom patrolled by police and should be avoided.
Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas throughout Venezuela, even areas presumed safe and visited by tourists.
Crimes committed against travelers are usually money-oriented crimes, such as theft and armed robbery.
Incidents occur during daylight hours as well as at night.
Many criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force.
Jewelry attracts the attention of thieves.
Travelers are advised to leave jewelry items, especially expensive-looking wristwatches, at home.
Gangs of thieves will often surround their victims and use a chokehold to disable them, even in crowded market areas where there is little or no police presence.
Theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes is a problem, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets is a common occurrence.
A guarded garage or locked trunk is not a guarantee against theft.
Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations in downtown Caracas.
Subway escalators are favored sites for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals.
Many of these criminals are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds using the subways during rush hour.
Travelers should not display money or valuables.
"Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are a problem.
Kidnapping of U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals, from homes, hotels, unauthorized taxis and the airport terminal has occurred.
U.S. citizens should be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.
The Department has received reports of robberies during nighttime and early morning hours on the highways around and leading to Caracas.
Reports have specifically involved cars being forced off the La Guaira highway leading from Caracas to the Maquetía International Airport, and the "Regional del Centro" highway leading from Caracas to Maracay/Valencia, at which point the victims are robbed.
The Department recommends avoiding driving at night and in the early morning where possible.
Drivers traveling on highways during nighttime and early morning hours should exercise caution.
Police responsiveness and effectiveness in Venezuela vary drastically but generally do not meet U.S. expectations.
U.S. travelers have reported robberies and other crimes committed against them by individuals wearing uniforms and purporting to be police officers or National Guard members.
Incidents of piracy off the coast of Venezuela remain a concern.
Some of these incidents have been especially violent, including the severe beating of a U.S. citizen in 2002, the fatal shooting of an Italian citizen in January 2004, and a machete attack on a U.S. citizen in 2005.
U.S. citizen yachters should exercise a heightened level of caution in Venezuelan waters.
Please consult the U.S. Coast Guard web site at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/g-opr.htm for additional information on sailing in Venezuela.

Rules governing the sale of fuel to foreign sailors in Venezuela vary by state.
U.S. citizen yachters should inquire about specific state procedures prior to attempting to purchase fuel in any given location.
Failure to comply with a state’s particular requirements can result in arrest and criminal charges.

The Embassy is aware of several instances where women lured American men to Venezuela after establishing “relationships” with them over the Internet.
Some of these men were robbed shortly after they arrived in Venezuela.
Others were recruited to act as narcotics couriers or “drug mules.”
In three instances, the Americans were arrested at the airport with narcotics in their possession and served extended jail terms in Venezuela.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care at private hospitals and clinics in Caracas and other major cities is generally good.
Public hospitals and clinics generally provide a lower level of care and basic supplies at public facilities may be in short supply or unavailable.
Cash payment is usually required in advance of the provision of medical services at private facilities, although some facilities will accept credit cards.
Patients who cannot provide advance payment may be referred to a public hospital for treatment.
Private companies that require the patient to be a subscriber to the service or provide cash payment in advance generally provide the most effective ambulance services.
Public ambulance service is unreliable.
U.S. citizens should be aware that due to the currency restrictions in effect in Venezuela they might find it difficult to receive wire transfers from abroad, whether through a bank or Western Union.
Such wire transfers cannot be used reliably as a source of emergency funds.
U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela may also find it difficult to obtain certain prescription drugs, particularly name brands, and should ensure that they have sufficient quantities of all medications for the duration of their stay.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Venezuela is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving regulations in Venezuela are similar to those in the United States, although many drivers do not obey them.
Defensive driving is a necessity.
Child car seats and seatbelts are not required and are seldom available in rental cars and taxis.
Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles, and livestock.
Even in urban areas, road damage is often marked by a pile of rocks or sticks left by passersby near or in the pothole or crevice, without flares or other devices to highlight the danger.
Traffic jams are common within Caracas during most of the day and are frequently exploited by criminals. Stops at National Guard and local police checkpoints are mandatory.
Drivers should follow all National Guard instructions and be prepared to show vehicle and insurance papers and passports.
Vehicles may be searched.
Inexpensive bus service is available to most destinations throughout the country, but the high incidence of criminal activity on public transportation makes bus travel inadvisable.
Peak holiday travel occurs during summer and winter school breaks and major civil and religious holidays, including Carnival, Easter, Christmas and New Year's holidays.
Lengthy delays due to road congestion are common during these peak periods.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Venezuela’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Venezuela’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa/.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In February 2007, the National Assembly granted President Chavez the authority to rule by decree in 11 general areas for 18 months.
Laws issued by President Chavez under this authority become effective immediately after their publication in the government legislative gazette.
As a result, laws directly impacting U.S. Citizens or their interests in Venezuela may come into force with little or no warning.
U.S. Citizens are advised to carefully monitor changes in Venezuelan law. Venezuela is also slated to hold gubernatorial and mayoral elections nation-wide in late 2008.
These electoral races are expected to generate extensive political campaigning from pro-government and opposition parties.
The government of Venezuela implemented rigid foreign exchange controls in 2003, including a fixed official rate of exchange.
Foreign exchange transactions must take place through exchange houses or commercial banks at the official rate.
As of October 2005 it is no longer possible to exchange money at hotels.
Currency exchange for tourists can be arranged at "casas de cambio" (exchange houses).
There are exchange houses located near most major hotels.
It is also possible to exchange money at commercial banks; however, visitors should be aware that the exchange would not be immediate.
Exchanges through commercial banks must first be approved by the Commission for Administration of Foreign Currencies (CADIVI).
This requires a registration process, which delays the exchange.
The exchange control mechanisms also require the exchange houses and commercial banks to obtain authorization from CADIVI to trade Bolívares Fuertes (the local currency) into U.S. dollars.
Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary, as it may be difficult to find exchange houses.
The Embassy cannot provide currency exchange services.
Travelers will likely encounter individuals in Venezuela who are willing to exchange Bolívares Fuertes for U.S. dollars at a rate significantly higher than the official rate of exchange.
These "parallel market" currency exchanges are prohibited under the Venezuelan foreign exchange controls.
Travelers engaging in such activity may be detained by the Venezuelan authorities.
Additionally, in accordance with an October 2005 law, any person who exchanges more than 10,000 U.S. dollars in the course of a year through unofficial means is subject to a fine of double the amount exchanged.
If the amount exceeds 20,000 U.S. dollars the penalty is two to six years imprisonment.
Any person who transports more than 10,000 U.S. dollars into or out of Venezuela by any means must declare this amount to customs officials.
Credit cards are generally accepted at most upscale tourist establishments, but foreign exchange controls have made credit card acceptance less common than in the past.
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express have representatives in Venezuela.
Due to the prevalence of credit card fraud in Venezuela, travelers should exercise caution in using their credit cards and should check statements regularly to ensure that no unauthorized charges have been made.
Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw local currency, but many of these ATMs will not accept U.S.-issued debit cards.
Venezuelan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Venezuela of items such as plant and animal products, firearms, medications, archaeological or "cultural heritage" items, and pirated copies of copyrighted articles.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington or one of Venezuela's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Venezuela’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Venezuela are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Venezuela.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizen Services from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, excluding U.S. and Venezuelan holidays.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Suapure and Calle F, Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas.
The telephone number during regular business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is (58) (212) 975-6411.
In case of an after-hours emergency, callers should dial (58) (212) 907-8400.
The Embassy’s web site, http://venezuela.usembassy.gov/ , contains complete information about services provided and hours of operation.
A part-time consular agent in Maracaibo provides services for U.S. citizens in western Venezuela.
The agent is available to the public every Monday from 8:15 am to 12:15 pm, at the Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia (CEVAZ), Calle 63 No. 3E-60, Maracaibo; telephone 58)(0261) 793-2101 or 793-3488.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 1, 2007, and updates all sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sat 20 Jul 2019
Source: El Pitazo [in Spanish, trans. ProMED KS, edited]

More than 10 cases of malaria have been reported in the Boyaca III sector of Barcelona (Anzoategui, Venezuela) in the past 2 weeks. Of these cases, 2 are young children aged 1 and 2 years old, infected after the bite of the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito.

Maria Febres, a nurse and resident of the community, states that the malaria outbreak is due to the lack of weeding and cleaning in the channel that crosses the Boyaca III sector, where more than 500 families reside.  "We have 12 cases of malaria in the sector. We need them to come clean the canal, which has not received adequate maintenance for 2 years, putting many families at risk of contracting malaria due to the proliferation of mosquitoes," she said.

The nurse told the infociudadano [city correspondent] of El Pitazo [local media company], Eduardo Mora, that the sector has not been fumigated since 2018, and called on Public Health and Malariology officials to visit the area and verify what is happening.  "The most affected area is Boyaca III sector II, because we have a Simoncito [children's centre -- so-called in honour of Simon Bolivar] there and the children who go every day are the ones most at risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito and, thus, getting malaria," said Maria.  [Byline: Giovanna Pellicani]
===================
[Over the past 5 years, the malaria control programme in Venezuela has not be functioning, and malaria has resurged in most of the country, which is well illustrated by this report. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Anzoategui, Venezuela: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/40477>]
Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2019 14:05:22 +0200
By Guillaume DECAMME

El Tucuco, Venezuela, July 7, 2019 (AFP) - The sweltering heat of the Venezuelan forest makes no difference to Jose Gregorio, who trembles with a cold chill. "I have pain everywhere, fever," he stammers.    Gregorio has the classic symptoms of malaria, a disease eradicated years ago among his Yukpa indigenous people, but it's back with a vengeance all across crisis-struck Venezuela.   "He had sore joints and then started vomiting, and it's been four or five days since he's eaten anything," says his worried wife Marisol.   Their four-month-old baby babbles beside his father on the bed.   "The baby and I also had malaria," says Marisol. "Before, that was not the case here, there was only chikungunya and dengue, malaria came back here last year."

She doesn't bat an eyelid at the mention of either of the other mosquito-borne viruses, whose spread has been fueled by the collapse of Venezuela's health system.   "Here" is El Tucuco, a small village at the foot of the mountains that form the border with Colombia, a three-hour drive from Maracaibo in Venezuela's western Zulia state.   With 3,700 people, El Tucuco is the Yukpas' "capital" and malaria is rapidly making its presence felt here as in the rest of Venezuela -- a country that could once boast of being the first to have eradicated the disease in 1961.

- 'Pandemic' -
There are no official statistics on malaria's reach into El Tucuco, nor on the number of deaths it causes.    But from his consulting room at the Catholic Mission, Dr Carlos Polanco is seeing a developing crisis.    "Out of 10 people who are tested for malaria in the village laboratory, four to five come out with a positive test. This is an alarming figure."   Brother Nelson Sandoval, a Capuchin friar who presides over the mission, adds: "Before entering the order, I already knew this community and I had never seen a case of malaria. Today we are in the middle of a pandemic."   El Tucuco is affected by Plasmodium vivax, the most geographically widespread malarial species. The more lethal Plasmodium falciparum strain is prevalent in the Amazonian regions of southeastern Venezuela.

According to Sandoval and Polanco, the reason for malaria's sudden virulence in El Tucuco is simple: once-regular fumigation missions by the Venezuelan government stopped.   "And as the population of mosquitos increased, cases exploded," said Polanco.   Added to this is the malnutrition that weakens resistance to the disease, a new phenomenon since the economic crisis took hold at the end of 2015.    "Before, it was possible to vary one's diet, but with inflation the Yukpa cannot afford it," instead making do with what they can grow, like cassava and plantain, according to Polanco.   Rosa, 67, knows all about malnutrition. Lying on the floor of her house, she is battling malaria for the third time. "The doctor weighed me yesterday -- 37 kilograms. I was 83 kilos before."

A report published in British medical journal The Lancet in February warned of an epidemic of malaria and dengue fever as a result of the continuing crisis in Venezuela.   Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the number of malaria cases in the nation jumped 70 per cent.    "The situation is catastrophic," said Dr Huniades Urbina, secretary of the national Academy of Medicine. In 2018, "there were 600,000 cases of malaria and we, the scientific organizations, estimate that in 2019 we could reach a million cases" -- one in every 30 people.   But these figures are only estimates, "because the government conceals the statistics."

-'Nobody answers us'-
The malaria explosion has gone hand in hand with the worsening economic crisis. According to Nicolas Maduro's government, inflation reached a staggering 130,000 percent in 2018 and GDP halved between 2013 and 2018.    In the oil-rich state of Zulia, service stations have been dry for more than a month. Electricity blackouts are commonplace and residents flee abroad in their thousands.   Despite a poster of late president Hugo Chavez at the entry to the clinic, there is little sign of government presence in El Tucuco. Dr Luisana Hernandez despairs of ever seeing any state help.   "Every day, everything is deteriorating a bit more," she says, exasperated. Refrigerators intended to keep vaccines cold do not work "because we have no gasoline to run the generator," and both the clinic's broken-down ambulances are gathering rust in the garden.   "We've knocked on every door. But nobody answers us," said Hernandez.

Without fuel to bring drugs from the city, without resources to prevent illnesses, eradicating malaria in an almost impossible task.   Brother Nelson does what he can, with help from the Catholic charity Caritas and the Pan American Health Organization. His mission distributes the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and primaquine to sick Yukpa people.   Maria Jose Romero, 22, was able to benefit from treatment. "Repeated seizures are due to the fact that many people cannot follow the treatment," for lack of drugs, she said.   Romero now lives across the border in Colombia, having fled Venezuela. She is visiting El Tucuco to see her family. Soon she will return to the other side of the mountain, on foot.   "It's three days' walk," she says.
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019
Source: InSight crime [edited]

Disease outbreaks show desperate Venezuelans have migrated to illegal gold mining areas for work.

Outbreaks of malaria and diphtheria in a region of Venezuela where these diseases are rare has revealed how armed groups are organizing a vast migration to illegal mines.

The outbreaks show that criminals operating in the state of Miranda found a way to make money amid the country's worsening crisis by moving into the illegal gold mines of Bolivar state, in the south of Venezuela.

In the middle of 2017, doctors witnessed an unusual, sustained, and inexplicable malaria outbreak in Valles del Tuy, a region in the state of Miranda located between the coast and the center of Venezuela where the mosquito-borne disease is seldom seen, Efecto Cocuyo reported.

The startling epidemic offered the 1st clue to the changing criminal dynamics in the region.

"Malaria was not a disease native to states in the center of the country, so this caught our attention. We started to ask patients about it to find out how they contracted it. The surprise came when one of the patients told me that he had caught it in the mining region in the state of Bolivar, where they went to work in gold mining," explained a doctor whose practice is in Charallave, the municipal seat in Cristobal Rojas municipality in Miranda state. The doctor asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Pressured by the economic situation and massive inflation, residents of the Valles del Tuy region began working during their vacations in the illegal mines in Bolivar, more than 500 kilometers [about 311 mi] away. The doctor said that they were recruited by 'pranes', or prison gang bosses, who had previously been the leaders of local 'megabandas' in Valles del Tuy.

The megabandas' grip on Valles del Tuy began in 2013, when various sites were converted into so-called peace zones, areas where security forces could not enter.

Later, when kidnappings and extortion stopped being profitable in the poor areas where they operated, members of the same megabandas migrated to the mining region in search of other sources of income, and to escape police and military raids.

InSight crime analysis
----------------------
Criminals are not immune to the effects of Venezuela's current economic, political, and social crisis.

Many criminals, primarily pranes and leaders of megabandas, have been forced to abandon their former strongholds and change the pattern of their criminal activities, according to investigations conducted by InSight Crime.

Criminals are trading robbery, petty theft, and kidnappings for drug trafficking and illegal mining. Additionally, they are migrating to states where these illicit economies are strongest: Sucre, Zulia, Tachira, and Bolivar. In the south of Venezuela, Bolivar has become the principal destination for the pranes of Valles del Tuy.

Ramon Teran Rico, alias "Monchi," for example, was the leader of one of the largest criminal organizations in the state of Miranda. Community representatives told InSight Crime that he fled to Bolivar's mines 2 years ago.

Monchi was the 1st crime boss to try his luck at the Orinoco Mining Arc, a transnational mining project created in 2016. He gradually moved his henchmen there from the Valles del Tuy. Sources in his circle of friends say that he even purchased his own dredge to extract gold.

Leaders of other criminal structures operating in the Valles del Tuy have also had to reinvent themselves in order to survive, and have moved into southern Venezuelan states where they operate comfortably.

Hundreds of residents of the towns in Valles del Tuy have migrated to the mining region. "All of the families here have at least one person that has gone to work in the mines," said a resident of Ocumare del Tuy in Miranda state, who reports seeing his neighbors' children and relatives head for the mines.

In November 2016, a case of diphtheria, an acute infectious disease [that most commonly affects the throat and the tonsils], was detected in the Sucuta sector of Ocumare del Tuy, alerting health authorities to the re-emergence of a disease rarely seen in the center of the country.

Follow-up with the patient found that he had contracted the infection in the Bolivar mines.

Health authorities developed prevention plans targeted at the neighborhoods where criminal groups operate. Investigations conducted by health authorities demonstrated that the men that go to work in the mines, as well sex workers or women who work in the kitchens there, carried these diseases back to the Valles del Tuy.

The public health problem shed light on the fact that an illegal gold mining fever had emerged -- an economic lifeline that is now strengthening organized crime.  [Byline: Venezuela Investigative Unit]
=======================
[Malaria has surged in Venezuela over the past 9 years (see ProMED reports below). Control measures have ceased to exist and drugs for treatment have become difficult to find. The association with illegal haphazard mining was reported from Bolivar state in 2012, and the present report underlines that such activities constitute high risk for malaria and other diseases.

The diphtheria outbreak that began in July 2016 remains ongoing. Through February 2019, Venezuela has seen a total of 2726 suspected cases (1612 confirmed), including 164 in 2019 to date (<http://outbreaknewstoday.com/diphtheria-update-venezuela-60872/>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Venezuela:
Date: Sat, 25 May 2019 03:37:38 +0200
By Andrea TOSTA

Caracas, May 25, 2019 (AFP) - If it weren't for the Center for Malaria Studies in Caracas, Francelis Pacheco would have been unable to get treatment for a disease she has contracted around 20 times.   Pacheco, 25, sells clothes and cigars in the claustrophobic tunnels of gold mines in southern Venezuela's Bolivar state, where a type of malaria-carrying mosquito is particularly active.   "If it weren't for (treatment) here, honestly I don't know what I would have done," Pacheco told AFP as she waited in the clinic for a new diagnosis, having spent several months in Bolivar state and neighboring Guyana, some 600 kilometres (370 miles) from her Caracas home.

The clinic, though, is not immune to Venezuela's economic crisis and is struggling to treat patients.   This is a country that lacks 85 percent of the medicines it needs, according to the pharmaceuticals industry.   With a tiny budget, the malaria clinic, which was opened in 1973, relies on donations.   Between 20 and 30 people a day from all over the country come get diagnosed and receive medication to alleviate the symptoms of a disease that can be fatal.

- 'Zero funding' -
Scientists who would later work for this clinic contributed in 1961 to helping Venezuela become the first country to eradicate malaria.   However, there was a resurgence seven years ago, worsening to become an epidemic in 2016, according to the Red de Epidemiologia NGO.   Today the clinic is in a sorry state: yellowed microscopes, a dishwasher stained by purple chemicals, refrigerators corroded by rust.   Over the years, fridges, freezers and air conditioners have stopped working and there's been no budget to  repair or replace them. Maintenance costs $1,000 a month.   Until 2007, the clinic received state funding for studies, but the money dwindled and then disappeared, Oscar Noya, the institution's director, told AFP.   "In Venezuela, scientific and investigative funding is zero!" he said.

The clinic has eight staffers who are paid salaries equivalent to $7 to $11 a month.   "We're at extreme poverty levels," said Noya, adding that "a full-time researcher should earn $4,000 to $5,000 a month."   Despite this, the center continues to propose malaria research projects to universities in France, Spain or Scotland, which allows them to secure funding.   According to the World Health Organization, Venezuela registered more than 400,000 malaria cases in 2017, making it one of the hardest-hit countries in the Americas.   Noya, though, believes the true extent of the epidemic is "close to two million" people affected.   The clinic treated 3,500 patients in 2018 alone, a figure that was "150 times greater than the past but with the same number of staff."

- Surviving on donations -
The government stopped publishing its epidemiology bulletins in 2016 when it acknowledged 240,000 cases.   Venezuela is blighted by the worst economic crisis in its recent history with basic necessities such as food and medicine in short supply.   Oil production, on which Venezuela is almost entirely dependent, has dropped alarmingly in the last decade while the International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will reach a staggering 10 million percent this year.

President Nicolas Maduro's government blames the country's woes on US sanctions, which the socialist leader claims have cost Venezuela $30 billion.   The malaria clinic survives on donations from NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Aid For Aids and the Rotary Club, as well as through international partnerships.   The money raised is spent on medicine, quick test kits, gloves and chlorine to clean the facilities.   In 2018, they also received anti-malaria medication from the Pan American Health Organization after two years without any, Noya said.   "Today, we're on the mat... but we're fighters and that's why we're still here, even though we've had many offers to leave the country" for work, he added.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."