The Great Escape

 Before we get into today’s fare I have to tell you about the check of my Venezuela news feed yesterday.Remember how I told you about the Venezuela government owned news outlet,Telesur, never covering anything of substance regarding the Chavistas? Yesterday was a classic example.As I scanned the list of articles from various news services there were numerous headlines from Telesur. Since the filter flags anything about Venezuela and Telesur is a Venezuelan “news outlet” it always shows the Telesur posts. It began with an article on Brazil,then Nicaragua,China,Chile,Paraguay, North Korea.Afganistan,and 4 more before we finally came to a story that was actually about Venezuela. Even then, it was an article on Venezuela and Qatar strengthening economic ties. That’s twelve articles in a row with nothing of substance pertaining to Venezuela.

 Instead of getting started with Chapter 3 of Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole today I’ll tell you the tale of my exit from Venezuela this year,wife and daughter in tow. No worries though. When we continue Down The Rabbit Hole on Monday you’ll love “Killing The Golden Goose.” OK, so here we go…

 Our desire to get out of Venezuela started a few years earlier and we applied to the State Department to get visas for Duglimar and little Rachell. Since there was no US Embassy in Caracas,they had left Venezuela along with the flood of migrants, we would have to go to the embassy in Bogota’, Colombia for the interview,however,we needed to get the process going first which meant hiring a lawyer. By the way, The O’Brien Law Group was terrific! We would need a lot of documents so while Duglimar got to work on obtaining everything we would need as far as Venezuelan documents there were some things we needed from the US so I headed up there to get the ball rolling. Little did I know I wouldn’t see the good old USA again for another two and a half years.

 After getting things started with the visa process I returned to our island paradise (rapidly deteriorating) to await notification of our interview appointment in Colombia. I had been told the process would take about 10 months but it was more like a year and a half. At each step in the process the State Department would request documents we had already submitted to the last office that was processing the petition,and so on….

 Finally we were notified that we had an appointment at the US Embassy in Bogota’ so we made the hotel and travel arrangements and we were all set.It may have been eight months longer than anticipated but there was light at the end of the tunnel. Then BAM! Covid hit and we wouldn’t be going anywhere for some time. OH well, if you have to be stuck somewhere waiting out this Covid thing out it might as well be in a condo overlooking the Caribbean,right?

 Our community had been somewhat insulated from many of the ravages of Chavismo. We more often than not had running water and electricity and we generally kept a six month supply of non-perishable items at our condo. As we waited for things to open up conditions deteriorated even more than they had been. There was a problem with the main water pump for our community so we would have to rely on the back up which meant running water for only a few hours a day until they could fix the main pump. It took months and in the mean time the electric service went downhill and we were often without power.

 After a year or so of enduring various hardships Maduro finally opened things up,at least somewhat. My physical condition had been declining due to the hernia I was living with and I certainly wasn’t going to have surgery in Venezuela. Even before Covid the healthcare situation was a disaster. Remember Duglimar’s quote, “In Venezuela you go to the hospital to die.” I was in a place where a routine procedure could lead to amputation of a limb due to lack of antibiotics. My dental situation was also going downhill but I was Covid paranoid. As they often say in movies, “the shit ain’t worth dying over.” But let’s not dwell on that.

 Our neighbor had a visitor that had been trapped by Covid and when things partially opened up he made a break for it by a circuitous route since there were only five countries opened for travel in Maduro’s infinite wisdom. He managed to get home to Canada before Maduro closed everything again so we knew it was possible to get out. Even though we didn’t have an appointment for the visas we would leave for Colombia at the next opportunity and deal with whatever we had to deal with.

 When our chance came we took it. Colombia was not on the approved list for travel so we would go to Caracas,then to Mexico,then on to Colombia to try and secure the visas for Duglimar and Rachell.All the arrangements were made…again…as we had done pre Covid adding the Mexico leg to our travels. We were all set. It was with only minor trepidation that we made our way through the lines at the airport in Caracas.

 Duglimar and Rachell had already passed through migration and were waiting for me to get the go ahead when I was told “You’ll have to wait over here.” My visa was expired due to the fact that the government offices had been closed so it couldn’t be renewed but our neighbor’s Canadian friend had just been waved through so I figured I had a pretty good shot. Well, he wasn’t an American. I was told by an official, “You’ll have to come with me.” Duglimar was understandably upset but no amount of reasoning (or bribery) was going to change these people’s mind.

 I soon found myself in a little room I had no idea existed. I had heard about such places,from which people have been known to disappear.After a couple of rounds of waiting and questioning I was still pissed off but at least relieved that I wasn’t being led off to who knows where. I was released to the airline ticket area and reunited with my family. They told us we would have to go to SAIME (the migration people) and get a travel release document. I guess that’s what they do in lieu of a visa. “But they’re not open!” I protested to which they replied “They will be open tomorrow morning.”

 A friend of ours had sent a guy over to collect us and our luggage and take us to a hotel. We got settle in and the next day the same guy took us to SAIME. As expected, we couldn’t get in but after numerous phone calls and texts we found someone that could hook us up with the travel release document…for $500. Fine, just get us outta here. The unexpected extra time in Caracas and the extra $500 would dent our cash reserve a bit. Someone from the hotel staff overheard us discussing our plight and Duglimar got a text from reception saying if we sent $480 to their Zelle account, which we often used, they would give us the cash. Cool! Only it was a fraud. When we addressed this with the hotel management they didn’t report it to the police for investigation, they reported Duglimar to the police for investigation. Who knew the hotel was run by government mafia types?

 Before the police could question Duglimar and possibly detain her, on advice from friends, we checked out of the hotel,used a different guy for transport,and went to another hotel.

 With my travel release document in hand we returned to the airport having changed all our arrangements for travel and lodging.We were headed to Mexico and then on to Colombia but first we had to get out of Caracas.Would there be an issue with my $500 document? Would the police be looking for Duglimar? Would there be some other problem? Those were some anxious moments but we finally made it out of there and on to Mexico.

 Since we had to go to Mexico to get to Colombia we took the opportunity to visit Duglimar’s Mom,Dad,and little brother in Tulum where they had settled having fled the regime a year earlier just before Covid.Then it was on to Bogota’ where we still didn’t have an interview appointment for the visas and given the Covid situation who knew if we could get one.But, at least we had escaped Venezuela.

 To make a long story short we were in Bogota’ for six weeks before finally getting the visas for Duglimar and Rachell thanks to a lot of work by Dayana Fuentes with O’Brien Law Group,and of course, Senator Chuck Grassley’s office. Thanks Mimi!!

 Now that we are getting situated here in Fort Worth we can get on with our lives and providing for Rachell’s future. Things sure took a turn for the worse here in the USA in my two and a half year absence but I’m getting to work on that. I sure don’t want Rachell to have to make an escape from the US the way we did from Venezuela.

 Stay tuned……



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