Things That Matter

Giant Costco Products Are Popping Up On Shelves Across Venezuela And Many Are Left Wondering How

The relationship between the United States and Venezuela is perhaps the most confrontational it has ever been, as the Trump and Maduro administration often trade jabs on social media and through diplomatic channels. The United States is set on decimating the economy of the country by way of economic and trade sanctions, while the government led by Nicolás Maduro has definitely not made things easier for its citizens.

Measures of austerity and the fact that many foreign companies are fleeing the country has led to daily financial struggle and lack of even the most basic products for Venezuelans, many of whom have decided to flee to the United States, Australia and Europe if they belong to the elite, or to neighbouring Colombia as migrants if they have to survive as refugees. However, if Latin Americans set themselves apart for anything, it  is the creative ways in which we survive and find opportunities that few would spot.

An increasing influx of US products are flooding Venezuelan shelves.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

But how is this possible if trade between the countries is practically at a standstill? Well, people have taken matters on their own hands. Venezuelan businessmen have established a distribution network of basic products such as non perishing food and toiletries bought in bulk at discount stores in Florida such as Costco. These products are then sent to Venezuela on a door to door delivery service. Once in Venezuela they are put on the shelves of bodega style shops called bodegones.

Reuters reports on how this informal economy works: “The products move in bulk via shipping companies with bases in south Florida who have this year enjoyed a 100% exemption of import duties and waiver of some paperwork at the Venezuelan end, the sources added.”

Because the formal commercial relationships between Venezuela and the US are stalled, this type of activity is possible and provides what Reuters calls an unlikely valve that relieves some pressure for Maduro’s government, which has led to an unprecedented lack of basic products such as toilet paper. 

Some of the shops are even named after the original United States stores.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

This shop located in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, is named after Walmart, and we are sure that the headquarters in the United States are either unaware or don’t really care. Costco is not the only shop in which buyers in the United States acquire goods to send to Venezuela (for a fee, of course). There are services through which Venezuelas can mail goods to United States addresses from shops like Target. This is a type of informal economy that has boomed due to the scarcity of local products.

However, let’s keep in mind that the social gap is huge, perhaps insurmountable at this point, and that these products are sold at hefty prices that few can afford. As Reuters reports: “Though the goods in the corner-shops are out of reach for most bolivar-earning Venezuelans, a well-heeled elite with dollars makes for a viable business in indulgence products.”

Hector Mambe, owner of this Mini Walmart, told Reuters: “Everything our customers want from the United Sates, we’ve managed to offer here!”

The response of US companies? Deaf silence. As Reuters informs us: “Costco declined to comment, while Walmart did not respond to a request. Venezuela’s Information Ministry, tax authority and state port agency also did not respond to requests for comment.” Business seems to be booming right?

And many of these shops are dollar-only.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

As the Bolivar depreciated, Maduro lifted the ban on dollar transactions. Just like happened in socialist Cuba before with tourist-only shops, there are establishments in Venezuela that only trade in US dollars, which is counter intuitive to the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the post-Chavez Venezuela. Other Global South economies have relied in the US dollar in the past, such as Cambodia, where the booming tourist industry trades almost exclusively in the foreign currency. 

And this practice is out in the open, it has ceased to be secretive, and people are criticizing it.

Timothy Aeppel, a journalist for Reuters, stresses the irony of not being to buy medicine in the country, but cake mix is now available if you have the cash. One of the many contradictions of the Maduro regime. Even though the government still has some support from fellow socialist nations in South America and elsewhere, even the most fierce defenders of the Venezuela Chavista sometimes find it hard to justify the economic decisions that have led the South American nation to a generalized state of anxiety and desperation.

While others think that this only serves the elites.

Yes, there are more products available now due to this strange availability of US brands, but is this another way of just perpetuating the class differentials between those who support Maduro and those who oppose him?

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Democratic Senators Introduce Legislation to Grant Venezuelan Migrants Temporary Protected Status, Prevent Deportation

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Democratic Senators Introduce Legislation to Grant Venezuelan Migrants Temporary Protected Status, Prevent Deportation

Photo via Getty Images

After years of living in a state of uncertainty about their future, Venezuelan refugees in the U.S. might finally be granted long-term protection by the U.S. government.

On Monday, Democratic senators took the official steps towards granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelan migrants in the U.S.

A similar resolution passed in the House in 2019, but was blocked by Republicans in the senate.

This time if passed, TPS could protect 200,000 Venezuelan citizens currently in the U.S, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Although former President Trump issued a Deferred Enforced Departure decree (DED) on his final day in office, critics and immigration experts alike argue that this action didn’t go far enough.

“After four years of empty promises and deceit, nobody believes Donald Trump had an epiphany on his last day in office and decided to protect the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans he was forcing into the shadows,” said New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez in a statement.

Indeed, Trump DED order only delayed deportation of undocumented Venezuelans for up to 18 months. But TPS would grant Venezuelan refugees protected status.

“TPS is an immigration status that can lead to a green card under President Joe Biden’s immigration proposal,” Miami-based immigration lawyer Laura Jimenez told NBC News.

“TPS is based in statute and is a legal immigration status, as opposed to Deferred Enforced Departure,” Menendez, who was born in New York City to Cuban immigrants, said. “That is why we are relaunching our campaign to actually stand with those fleeing the misery caused by the Maduro regime.”

Throughout his campaign, President Biden promised he would extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan refugees, so now the refugee community wants to see him act on that promise.

Venezuela’s economy collapsed under the repressive regime of Nicolás Maduro, shrinking by approximately 64%.

Not only are there widespread food shortages and massive inflation, but Maduro’s critics are being jailed and silenced by other nefarious means.

Because of all this, the South American country facing what Bloomberg calls “a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions.” As of now, some 5.4 million Venezuelans are in exile, with 600 more leaving the country every day.

But with the news of a likely extension of Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the U.S., many Venezuelans are starting to feel optimistic about the future.

“Now, I feel like I’m really a part of this society and we keep supporting this country,” said Tampa resident Jennifer Infante to Bay News 9 about the recent Congressional news. “I think we deserve this opportunity because we came to make this country a better place and to keep moving forward.”

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Just After Congress Approves $600 Stimulus Checks, Trump Threatens To Veto The Bill

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Just After Congress Approves $600 Stimulus Checks, Trump Threatens To Veto The Bill

Updated: December 23, 2020

Just days after the U.S. Congress approved legislation that would send millions of Americans much-needed stimulus checks – even though they were only $600 – Donald Trump has thrown the entire plan into chaos.

Donald Trump threatens to veto historic spending bill.

Trump is holding a veto threat over recently passed, bipartisan legislation that was aimed at stimulating a suffering economy. Trump says that he wants lawmakers to boost the $600 direct payments to checks for $2,000 but his own party is basically united against increasing the size of checks.

Many point out that Trump is simply holding up the legislation, not for the stimulus checks, but because he objects to other parts of the law. Within the spending package, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle approved spending for arts and cultural programs as well as aide to developing countries across the world.

Original Story Published: December 18, 2020

So it looks like millions of Americans may end up getting that long overdue second stimulus check after all. So long as Congress doesn’t screw things up again.

As part of the latest round of negotiation between Democrats and Republicans, it looks a like a proposal for $600 direct payments is back on the table. However, $600 is literally half of the amount that was sent out to millions of Americans back in April and May.

A new stimulus package could include direct payments to millions of Americans.

Congressional leaders are considering a new deal to help stimulate the economy which has been battered by the Coronavirus pandemic. And although it appeared, as recently as last week, that a second stimulus check was off the table, that seems to have changed.

The new deal under consideration included new stimulus checks and enhanced federal unemployment benefits, according to reports by Politico. Even President Trump said in a TV interview over the weekend that he wants stimulus checks in the deal, saying he wants to “see checks—for more money than they’re talking about—going to people.”

Millions of workers aren’t getting any help from the largest emergency aid deal in US history.

The bill, known as the CARES Act, delivers direct payments to most taxpayers, vastly expands unemployment benefits, and makes testing for the virus free, among other provisions.

But although unauthorized immigrants are no more immune from the effects of the current crisis, the stimulus bill conspicuously leaves them out in the cold — potentially putting them at greater economic and health risk, and impeding public health efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

There are an estimated 10.7 million undocumented immigrants in the USA who are ineligible for emergency federal benefits or state unemployment insurance because they don’t have valid work authorization. 

That’s left an extra layer of anxiety for immigrants without legal status who have lost their jobs or seen work hours reduced amid the statewide shutdown of “nonessential” businesses. Many turned to local organizations for help to put food on the table and pay other expenses. 

Undocumented residents are already at greater risk of being affected by Covid-19 because of inadequate resources and access to health care.

The unauthorized worker population is particularly vulnerable to the virus due to inadequate access to health care. Noncitizens are significantly more likely to be uninsured compared to US citizens, which may dissuade them from seeking medical care if they contract the virus.

Compounding matters are the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies — including wide-scale immigration raids and a rule that can penalize green card applicants for using Medicaid — which have made noncitizens afraid to access care. These factors pose a problem for America’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 12,000 in the US as of April 7.

Where the government is failing, advocates and organizations are stepping up to help.

Some immigrant advocates lobby for the undocumented to be included by allowing payments to those who file taxes using individual tax identification numbers, which are often used by workers without legal immigration status. 

“They should include at least the individual taxpayers,” said Diana Mejia, founder of the Wind of the Spirit, an organization that helps immigrants in New Jersey’s Morris County.  “They are paying taxes,” she added in an interview with CNN.

Filers who use ITINs contribute about $11.74 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington think tank.

Aside from millions of undocumented migrants, millions of others are also being left out of the stimulus:

Credit: Department of Treasury

College Students and 17-Year-Olds: If someone else claims you as a dependent on their taxes, you won’t get your own check. Parents will get an extra $500 payment per child, but that’s only for kids under 17.

Most 17-year-olds, some young adults and many of the country’s roughly 20 million college students are claimed by their parents as dependents. They won’t get checks, and their parents won’t get an extra $500.

Disabled People: People who get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or Veterans Affairs are eligible for the payments — but not disabled adults who are claimed as dependents by their parents or other relatives on their taxes

Seniors Who Live With Family: Senior citizens who are on Social Security or make less than the income cap are eligible. But the “dependent” rule applies to them, too. Some seniors who live with their adult children or other relatives are claimed by them as dependents on their taxes. Those seniors won’t get checks.

Immigrants are eligible for some free testing.

Credit: Pixabay

Here’s one thing the bill does offer to unauthorized immigrants: free coronavirus testing at government-funded community health centers through a $1 billion federal program. But some community health centers have already reported shortages of tests.

There is also a larger, state-level testing program funded through Medicaid, but that’s only available to Medicaid-eligible immigrants — green card holders who have lived in the US for at least five years, immigrants who come to the US on humanitarian grounds such as asylum, members of the military and their families, and, in certain states, children and pregnant women with lawful immigration status. Those groups, however, make up only a small proportion of immigrants living in the US. 

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that it won’t consider use of free testing services when evaluating whether immigrants will likely end up relying on public benefits under the “public charge” rule, which went into effect in February

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