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Some Venezuelans, alerted by Maduro's measures, are speeding up the escape plans



CARACAS / PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela (Reuters) – Carpenter Jose Narvaez had planned to flee Venezuela towards the end of the year and emigrate to the nearby Caribbean island of Aruba until Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro unveiled his plan to reverse the collapse of the economy.

FILE PHOTO: A Venezuelan migrants queue up to register their entry to Ecuador at the International Rumicha Bridge in Tulcan, Ecuador, on August 1

9, 2018. REUTERS / Luisa Gonzalez / File Photo

Now 43-year-old Narvaez wants to leave as soon as possible.

Maduro on Friday shocked the South American nation by announcing a 96% devaluation and vowed to tie the Bolivar currency to Venezuela's new "Petro", a cryptocurrency that experts have called into question as a functional financial instrument.

"I'm looking for flights that leave as best I can on Wednesday," said Narvaez at Venezuela's western oil center Punto Fijo, where massive but defective oil refineries are located. "I'm sure it will get worse because the man's ideas have no logic."

Maduro, who argues that he is a victim of a Washington-led "economic war" designed to sabotage his government by sanctioning, said The use of the petro will abolish the "tyranny" of the dollar and lead to an economic rebirth in Venezuela, an OPEC member state hosting the largest oil reserves in the world.

But many Venezuelans fear the measures – the details of which have not been explained – could make the country even more anarchic and say they will join the Exodus.

When the once wealthy nation fell into poverty, hundreds of thousands have already decided to leave.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan migrants flee into the building of the International Center of Frontier Services at the International Bridge of Rumichaca in Tulcan, Ecuador August 18, 2018. Reception of August 18, 2018. REUTERS / Luisa Gonzalez / File Photo [19659010] As the International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation could rise to 1 million percent by the end of the year, malnutrition is on the rise as a monthly minimum wage of a few dollars makes it unattainable for many simple products such as chicken. Families go through the trash, parents skip meals for their children to eat, and teenagers climb trees to pick mangoes.

The United Nations estimates that some 2.3 million Venezuelans live abroad – 1.6 million have fled in just the last two and a half years, the largest movement in Latin American modern history.

This contrasts sharply with the twentieth century when a booming Venezuela accepted immigrants from southern Europe, the Middle East and neighboring war-torn Colombia.

In the capital Caracas, the streets were quiet on Monday. Maduro had enacted a plan on the first day of a national holiday that would cut five zeros off the price as part of its economic package to curb hyperinflation.

IT staff member Keila Leiba said she planned to emigrate to Mexico in early 2019, but Maduro's announcements made her propose her plans.

"I think at short notice now, I can change my plans to go within a month or a half of a month," Leiba said as she queued up to hand in paperwork for a coveted Spanish passport.

"I see no chances, nothing, you work, work, work and … you have no access to the most important thing: food."

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TURNING TIDE IN SOUTH AMERICA

Lots of Latin American governments welcomed the migrants with open arms and recalled Venezuela's role in welcoming refugees from dictatorships and conflicts in the past.

But this year, the exodus flourished, social services expanded, more competition created for low-skilled jobs, and fear of crime fueled. The sight of Venezuelans begging on street corners in cities such as the Colombian capital Bogota and Ecuador's Quito is becoming increasingly commonplace.

Last week, both Ecuador and Peru have announced stricter entry requirements for Venezuelans, while in Brazil insurgents have driven hundreds of migrants across the border.

Sports teacher Maritza Hernandez, 60, said at a place in Caracas, "We've all accepted here, they should give us a chance."

One of their sons is in Chile; The others want to emigrate at the end of this year. Hernández said she hopes to follow suit in 2019.

For many in Venezuela, the question now is how to afford a move.

"If only it depended on me, I would go today," said the restaurant worker Aries Armas, 21, who said she did not have enough money.

"The influx of Venezuelans must affect countries, but if you want to go now: where can you go?"

Report by Shaylim Castro and Mircely Guanipa; Letter from Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Rosalba O & Brien

Our Standards: The Thompson Reuters Trust Principles.

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