CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Until recently, Julio Noguera worked at a bakery. Now he spends his evenings searching through the garbage for food.
“I come here looking for food because if I didn’t, I’d starve to death,” Noguera said as he sorted through a pile of moldy potatoes. “With things like they are, no one helps anyone and no one gives away meals.”
“We’re seeing terrible sacrifices across many sections of society. A few years ago, Venezuela didn’t have the kind of extreme poverty that would drive people to eat garbage.”
— Carlos Aponte, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela.
Across town, unemployed people converge every dusk at a trash heap on a downtown Caracas sidewalk to pick through rotten fruit and vegetables tossed out by nearby shops. They are frequently joined by small business owners, college students and pensioners — people who consider themselves middle class even though their living standards have long ago been pulverized by triple-digit inflation, food shortages and a collapsing currency.
Venezuela’s poverty had eased during the administration of the late President Hugo Chavez. But a study by three leading Caracas universities found that 76 percent of Venezuelans are now under the poverty line, compared with 52 percent in 2014.
Staples such as corn flour and cooking oil are subsidized, costing pennies at the strongest of two official exchange rates. But fruit and vegetables have become an unaffordable luxury for many Venezuelan families.
“We’re seeing terrible sacrifices across many sections of society,” said Carlos Aponte, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela. “A few years ago, Venezuela didn’t have the kind of extreme poverty that would drive people to eat garbage.”
While some search through the garbage piles for food they can eat, many more are drawn by the opportunity to fetch a few bolivar bills by rescuing and reselling bruised produce.
On a recent evening, Noguera managed to retrieve a dozen potatoes.
“I’m a trained baker, but right now there’s no work anywhere here. So I make do with this,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »
Caracas (AFP) – Marc Burleigh reports: If a visitor to Venezuela is unfortunate enough to pay for anything with a foreign credit card, the eye-watering cost might suggest they were in a city pricier than Tokyo or Zurich.
A hamburger sold for 1,700 Venezuelan bolivares is $170, or a 69,000-bolivar hotel room is $6,900 a night, based on the official rate of 10 bolivares for $1.
But of course no merchant is pricing at the official rate imposed under currency controls. It’s the black market rate of 1,000 bolivares per dollar that’s applied.
But for Venezuelans paid in hyperinflation-hit bolivares, and living in an economy relying on mostly imported goods or raw materials, conditions are unthinkably expensive.
Even for the middle class, most of it sliding into poverty, hamburgers and hotels are out-of-reach excesses.
“Everybody is knocked low,” Michael Leal, a 34-year-old manager of an eyewear store in Caracas, told AFP. “We can’t breathe.”
In Chacao, a middle-class neighborhood in the capital, office workers lined up outside a nut store to buy the cheapest lunch they could afford. Nearby restaurants were all but empty.
Superficially it looked like the of any other major Latin American city: skyscrapers, dense traffic, pedestrians in short sleeves bustling along the sidewalks.
But look closely and you can see the economic malaise. Many stores, particularly those that sold electronics, were shuttered.
“It’s horrible now,” said Marta Gonzalez, the 69-year-old manager of a corner beauty products store.
“Nobody is buying anything really. Just food,” she said as a male customer used a debit card to pay for a couple of razor blades. Read the rest of this entry »
Violent clashes flare in pockets of the country as citizens wait for hours for basics, such as milk and rice.
“In past years, when oil prices were high, Venezuela’s leftist government flooded markets with subsidized goods ranging from cooking oil to diapers. It gave citizens in border towns like La Sibucara not only access to cheap supplies, but also a source of income as many people trafficked products—including nearly free gasoline—to neighboring Colombia, drawing handsome profits.”
The incident was just one of numerous violent clashes that have flared in pockets around the country in recent weeks as Venezuelans wait for hours in long supermarket lines for basics like milk and rice. Shortages have made hunger a palpable concern for many Wayuu Indians who live here at the northern tip of Venezuela’s 1,300-mile border with Colombia.
“We are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot.”
—María Palma, 55, of La Sibucara
The soldiers had been deployed to stem rampant food smuggling and price speculation, which President Nicolás Maduro blames for triple-digit inflation and scarcity. But after they seize contraband goods, the troops themselves often become targets of increasingly desperate people.
“Food-supply problems in Venezuela underscore the increasingly precarious situation for Mr. Maduro’s socialist government, which according to the latest poll by Datanálisis is preferred by less than 20% of voters ahead of Dec. 6 parliamentary elections.”
“What’s certain is that we are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot,” said María Palma, a 55-year-old grandmother who on a recent blistering hot day had been standing in line at the grocery store since 3 a.m. before walking away empty-handed at midday.
“If people aren’t outside protesting, they’re outside standing in line for goods.”
—Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict
In a national survey, the pollster Consultores 21 found 30% of Venezuelans eating two or fewer meals a day during the second quarter of this year, up from 20% in the first quarter. Around 70% of people in the study also said they had stopped buying some basic food item because it had become unavailable or too expensive.
“They’re committing treason against our country, taking food and crossing the border.”
—National Guard Gen. Manuel Graterol
Food-supply problems in Venezuela underscore the increasingly precarious situation for Mr. Maduro’s socialist government, which according to the latest poll by Datanálisis is preferred by less than 20% of voters ahead of Dec. 6 parliamentary elections. The critical situation threatens to plunge South America’s largest oil exporter into a wave of civil unrest reminiscent of last year’s nationwide demonstrations seeking Mr. Maduro’s ouster.
“It’s a national crisis,” said Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, noting that unlike the political protests of last year, residents are now taking to the streets demanding social rights. Read the rest of this entry »