Posted on August 23, 2016 · Posted in Industrial / Flex, Retail

The forklift’s working overtime at Vikom Export, one of the hundreds of shipping companies nestled in the warehouse labyrinths of Doral, just west of Miami.

Rafael Landa (left) and Pedro Behrens, who run the Doral shipping firm Letterr Express, in front of medical shipments bound for families in Venezuela. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Padgett WLRN.org)

Rafael Landa (left) and Pedro Behrens, who run the Doral shipping firm Letterr Express, in front of medical shipments bound for families in Venezuela. (PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Padgett WLRN.org)

Almost all of Vikom’s shipments go to Venezuela — and they’ve doubled since last year.

“Food, baby formula, medicine, adult diapers” says Vikom owner and Venezuelan expat Elisaul Herrera as his phone rings off the hook in his office. “Every month it’s more, more cargo. Increases constantly.”

Venezuela’s once oil-rich economy has collapsed under disastrous socialist rule. Imports of basic foodstuffs such as bread, meat and fruit are in a free-fall. So thousands of émigrés moving to South Florida to escape increasingly food and medicine shortages back in Venezuela are picking up the slack.

“There is nothing in Venezuela, nothing,” says Marianela Mendez, who lives in Coral Gables and edits an expat website, MiamiDiario. “On many days my family there can’t even find bread to buy.”

This is a strange new world for the shipping firms. In the old days, Venezuelans came to Miami, bought out our malls and shipped their purchases, from furniture sets to luxury goods, back home. Retailers here nicknamed them Dame dos, or “I’ll take two.” Now the shipments of rice and medicines have taken on a humanitarian aspect.

“Everybody came here to buy furniture,” says Venezuelan expat Pedro Behrens, operations manager at the Doral cargo firm Letterr Express. “Pallets from Rooms to Go, Ikea, every day.”

global-shipments-of-fruit-to-venezuela-_1_Shipping rice and inhalers is less profitable than shipping bedroom sets. So now, says Behrens, the work “is more than business. I mean, it’s humanitarian. Yeah, it is. But that brings its own problems. Venezuela’s government won’t admit the country needs humanitarian aid – especially help from what it calls its imperialista enemy to the north. As a result, it sometimes blocks shipments coming out of the U.S. – or corrupt officials sometimes confiscate them.

“If you go there with that flag, ‘Here comes Robin Hood,’ with a lot of humanitarian stuff, you’re going to be in big trouble down there,” says Letterr Express general manager Rafael Landa, standing beneath a mountainous stack of boxes filled with medical supplies.

global-shipments-of-meat-to-venezuela-_1_Which is why so many unlicensed shippers are popping up in Doral today. They’re often run by expats who make sketchy promises that they know which Venezuelan customs officials can be paid off to let packages in.

“We see like 20 new companies a month here in Doral,” says Landa. “But most of those are not legal.”

WLRN contacted at least three of those unlicensed firms. But none would speak on the record.

This month Venezuela re-opened its border with Colombia, which the Venezuelan government had closed last summer. That should bring some relief. But since their currency is so weak, Venezuelans are finding products are too expensive over in Colombia, too. And so the forklifts in Doral keep loading boxes.

 

Source: Miami Herald

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