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Tanker Captain Buried in Colombia, But His Widow Can't Prove His Death in Venezuela

© Capt. Silverio Balbuena /

By Angus Berwick

A year after a Colombian oil tanker captain was murdered by Venezuela's military, his widow says she still cannot claim his pension to support their two sons as the Venezuelan government refuses to authenticate his death certificate.

Jaime Herrera, 59, was shot dead on board the tanker in February 2020 by officers tasked with guarding his crew, according to a Reuters investigation published last year that highlighted his death as an example of Venezuela's lawlessness.

Now, Herrera's widow, Claudia Fortich, says the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Colombia has left her in a desperate limbo without the legal right to access his savings. Venezuela's government has denied requests she sent to obtain the required document, and Colombia's foreign ministry told her in an email that it was "impossible" to help her.

"Although nothing will bring back my husband, I feel victimized again by the Venezuelan government because besides killing him, they won't give me what I need to continue with my life," she told Reuters.

In a statement, Colombia's foreign ministry said Fortich's case was a matter for Venezuelan authorities. Venezuela's Information Ministry did not respond to requests to comment.

Herrera captained the tanker, the San Ramon, during a voyage to the Venezuelan port of Puerto La Cruz, where it intended to load a shipment of diesel. On arriving, Venezuela's military seized the vessel after Herrera declined to pay bribes to officers, crew members told Reuters.

For six months, the crew was held prisoner on board. Then, one night in February, masked soldiers raided the boat, stealing valuables and shooting Herrera. A Venezuelan court later ordered the arrest of seven officers on charges that included murder.

Herrera's death left Fortich back home in the Colombian city of Cartagena with their two young sons, one of whom has been diagnosed with autism and needs her full-time care, preventing her from working. She says that without Herrera's savings, held at Colombian pension fund Porvenir, she could lose her house.

To grant her access, Porvenir required an authenticated death certificate, which Fortich requested from Colombia's National Civil Registry. The registry told her that since Herrera died in Venezuela, the certificate had to be authenticated there. But Venezuelan authorities ignored her, she said.

She filed a lawsuit against Porvenir, the civil registry, and Colombia's foreign ministry to obtain an exemption, but in October a judge ruled against her, saying she should continue seeking the document in Venezuela.

Porvenir, in a statement, said once Fortich "has the required documents, Porvenir will give priority attention to her case." The civil registry did not respond to an email.

Fortich says one of her few options remaining is to ask Colombian authorities to declare Herrera dead in absentia, even though she witnessed his interment.

"The body of my husband is buried in Cartagena," she said. "But I can't prove his death."

(Reporting by Angus Berwick; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Feb 8, 2021



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