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U.S. Embassy in Venezuela halts new visas for lack of personnel, high demand

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - MARCH 04:  A worker passes a mural of Hugo Chavez at the military barracks where the former Venezuelan president is entombed on March 4, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. Workers made last minute preparations for Wednesday's ceremony marking the first anniversary of Chavez' death on March 5, 2013. The anniversary has been marred by three weeks protests against the government of Chavez' chosen successor Nicolas Maduro. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - MARCH 04: A worker passes a mural of Hugo Chavez at the military barracks where the former Venezuelan president is entombed on March 4, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. Workers made last minute preparations for Wednesday's ceremony marking the first anniversary of Chavez' death on March 5, 2013. The anniversary has been marred by three weeks protests against the government of Chavez' chosen successor Nicolas Maduro. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela has temporarily stopped scheduling appointments for first-time visa seekers because of the consular staff is insufficient to serve the overwhelming demand, the consular office announced.

The measure applies to all new tourist and business visas, for which an average of 1,800 applications were being filed daily.

Officials at the embassy said the government has repeatedly refused to grant the needed permits to increase the number of U.S. employees at the embassy, around 100 a year ago.

“We had to make this decision because in the last eight months [Venezuela’s] Foreign Ministry hasn’t responded to various requests to increase personnel,” said Lola Petrova, the embassy spokeswoman, said to Fox News Latino.

She said that with the current number of employees they can handle 800 daily appointments at the most.

In an average year, the U.S. embassy in this crisis-stricken country processes around 290,000 visa applications.

“The ministry hasn’t given us any explanation for the delay. They are not letting us operate in a normal way,” Petrova said.

Visa renewals, student visas and investors visas will not be affected, but embassy officials warned that the waiting period will be longer.

Those whose tourist visa expired more than six months ago will still have to get a new one, though.

Roberto Zuñiga, a 50-year-old resident of Caracas, was planning to make a visa appointment for a trip later this year or in early 2017, but now he won’t be able to do so because his visa expired a while ago.

“I wanted to visit some family and friends who are living in the U.S. and I also needed some weeks off from Venezuela’s hard situation,” he told Fox News Latino.

In March of 2015, President Nicolas Maduro requested the U.S. to reduce the number of American employees at the Caracas embassy by 80 percent. At the time, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. was operating with 17 staffers and she expected the same number of employees at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

The request to cut American personnel came shortly after accusations by President Maduro and other prominent Chavistas that U.S. Embassy employees were holding meetings with members of the opposition to “destabilize” the socialist government

Since taking office in 2013, President Maduro has denounced conspiracies against him or his government 113 times, according to an FNL count. In more than half of the cases, he said that the U.S. is behind them.

Washington has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The latest one came just this week, with Maduro claiming there is an “international campaign” aimed at justifying an invasion of Venezuela similar that of Libya in 2011.

“This is all unnecessary,” said Zuñiga. “Maduro is acting like a paranoid thinking that every American or foreigner is a threat, and it is Venezuelan citizens who pay for the consequences.”

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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