Monday December 16, 2019
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Know The Venezuelans Ways to Cope with Inflation and Hunger

"The poor, the rich, and the middle class — we're all suffering somehow because the government has leveled us all downwards," she adds with anger. "How did they dominate us? Through the stomach

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Venezuela
Franyelis, 8, feeds her baby brother Joneiber as their mother Francibel Contreras holds a bowl of scrambled eggs and rice, at a soup kitchen in the Petare slum, Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 14, 2019.. VOA
Francibel Contreras brings her three malnourished children to a soup kitchen in the dangerous hillside Caracas slum of Petare where they scoop in spoonfuls of rice and scrambled eggs in what could be their only meal of the day.

Part of the tragedy of daily life in socialist Venezuela can be glimpsed in this small volunteer soup kitchen in the heart of one of Latin America’s biggest slums, which helps dozens of children as well as unemployed mothers who can no longer feed them.

Some Venezuelans manage to endure the nation’s economic meltdown by clinging to the shrinking number of well-paid jobs or by receiving some of the hundreds of millions of dollars sent home by friends and relatives abroad — a quantity that has swollen in recent years as millions of Venezuelans have fled.

But a growing percentage of people across the country, especially in slums like Petare, are struggling to cope.

Contreras’s husband, Jorge Flores, used to have a small stand at a local market selling things like bananas and yucca, eggs and lunchmeat — trying to scrape out a profit in a place where hyperinflation often made his wholesale costs double from day to day. Then he was robbed at gunpoint by a local gang. And his brother crashed the motorcycle he used to supply his stand.

Jorge Flores practices his hairstyling skills on his mother Rosa Vega inside his home, where he is trying to set up a barber shop in the Petare slum, in Caracas, Feb. 14, 2019.
Jorge Flores practices his hairstyling skills on his mother Rosa Vega inside his home, where he is trying to set up a barber shop in the Petare slum, in Caracas, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

So Flores abandoned the market stall and looked for other work. He does some plumbing jobs and the family has turned its living room into a barbershop, sheltered beneath a corrugated metal roof held down by loose bricks and planks. It’s decorated with origami-like stars that the family has made out Venezuela’s colorful but rapidly depreciating bolivar bills.

“Our currency is worthless,” Contreras said. “These days, I prefer trading a bag of flour for a manicure or a haircut.”

The scarcity of milk, medicine and other basics — along with routine violence — has eroded support for socialist President Nicolas Maduro even in poor neighborhoods like Petare that once were his strongholds. Maduro says there’s an opposition-led plot to oust him from power and says U.S. economic sanctions and local opposition sabotage are responsible for the meltdown.

Various local polls show he retains support from roughly a fifth of the population, many of them ideological stalwarts, government-connected insiders or poor voters dependent on government handouts, including the so-called CLAP boxes of oil, flour, rice, pasta, canned tuna and other goods that arrive several times a year.

Contreras’ family of four gets those boxes, but it’s not enough to get by on for long. For months, they’ve been relying on the soup kitchen launched by opposition politicians as the main source of protein for their children. On a recent day, her 7-year-old son Jorbeicker played a pickup soccer game in the hilly, dusty streets in front of her home, while her husband practiced styling his mother’s hair.

“I’m barely getting by,” Flores said, scissors in hand.

The four-day power outage that brought most of Venezuela to a halt this month added to Flores’ misery. He wasn’t able to use the electric clippers needed to give customers the sort of trims they demand.

“It hit us in a big way,” he said. “You absolutely need the clippers.”

A portion of the Petare shanty town, one of Latin America's largest slums, is seen in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 14, 2019.
A portion of the Petare shanty town, one of Latin America’s largest slums, is seen in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

The couple estimates the power outage cost the family the equivalent of $11 in missed haircuts — a significant sum in a country where the minimum wage amounts to $6 a month, even if most people supplement that figure by working side jobs and pooling resources with friends and neighbors.

Contreras and Flores charge 2,500 bolivars — about 70 U.S. cents — for a trim. A government-subsidized kilogram of flour can cost almost three times that, and Contreras says that lines for the rationed goods can be endless and she sometimes comes back empty-handed. She also said she feels unsafe in the lines. Dozens of people have been killed in gang crossfires over the years, and some have been crushed to death when lines of shoppers turned into stampedes of desperate looters.

Next-door neighbor Dugleidi Salcedo sent her 4-year-old daughter to live with an aunt in the city of Maracay, two hours away, because she could no longer feed her. “My boys cry,” the single mother of four said. “But they resist more than her when I tell them that there’s no food.”

Dugleidi Salcedo complains to a neighbor about the high price of food as she prepares arepas for her three sons in her kitchen in the Petare slum, in Caracas, Feb. 14, 2019.
Dugleidi Salcedo complains to a neighbor about the high price of food as she prepares arepas for her three sons in her kitchen in the Petare slum, in Caracas, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

After walking back from the soup kitchen, she opened the rusty door to her home of scraped, mint-colored walls. Inside, her 11-year-old son Daniel, who was born partially paralyzed and with developmental disabilities, lay on a stained couch while flies flew over his twisted, uncovered legs.

When she took the lid off a plastic container to show her last bag of flour, a cockroach crawled out, making her jump back and scream.

“This is so tough,” she said. “I don’t have a job. I don’t have any money.”

Salcedo used to sell baked goods and juices to neighbors from the window of her kitchen. Then, her fridge broke down and she couldn’t find the money to fix it.

These days, she relies on the kindness of neighbors, or asks a friend who owns a small food shop for credit while she waits for loans from family members in other parts of Venezuela.

“This country has never been as bad,” the 28-year-old said. “Just buying some rice or flour is something so hard, so expensive, and often, they don’t even have any.”

A few days later, thieves broke into the soup kitchen and stole food. Then, a fire broke out in the slum, burning 17 homes to the ground. It was caused by candles that were apparently being used for light after a power outage — an almost everyday occurrence in many parts of Venezuela. Opposition lawmaker Manuela Bolivar, whose Nodriza Project runs the soup kitchen, said that when firefighters arrived, they lacked water and had to put out the blaze with dirt.

“It’s a social earthquake,” Bolivar said. “They lose their homes. They’re left in the open air. The soup kitchen was robbed. It’s so many adversities: It’s the infections, the lack of water and food.”

Carmen Victoria Gimenez, 43, shops at a farmers market in the middle-class district of Los Dos Caminos, in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 14, 2019.
Carmen Victoria Gimenez, 43, shops at a farmers market in the middle-class district of Los Dos Caminos, in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

At an outdoor market a short distance from Petare in the middle-class district of Los Dos Caminos, Carmen Gimenez shopped for carrots and other vegetables for a stew. When her 14-year-old daughter Camila asked if they could take some other products, she told her that they would have to stick to the basics.

Although she has a job at a bank, she still struggles to make ends meet.

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“It doesn’t matter where you live. The need is the same,” said Gimenez, 43.

“The poor, the rich, and the middle class — we’re all suffering somehow because the government has leveled us all downwards,” she adds with anger. “How did they dominate us? Through the stomach. (VOA)

Next Story

Health System Failure for Cancer Patients in Venezuela

Last year, about 4,700 women in Venezuela became ill with breast cancer, according to the Anticancer Society of Venezuela

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Cancer
Cancer Patients are not just afraid of the disease itself, but they also fear dying because they cannot find or afford the necessary treatment. Pixabay

A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough at any time. But for 49-year-old Grecia Solis, the arduous choices faced by all cancer patients were complicated by the crippling decline of Venezuela’s public health facilities.

After her diagnosis two years ago, doctors recommended surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Before the oil-producing nation’s steep economic decline of recent years, those services would have been available free of charge or for a nominal fee at a state-run public hospital.

But trained staff, medicines and equipment are in such short supply at those facilities today that a public hospital was no longer an option. Instead, Solis was forced to borrow money from family and friends to pay for her operation at a privately run, for-profit clinic.

Her operation, performed in May 2018, cost her $500, a modest amount by U.S. standards, but a huge sum in Venezuela where hyperinflation has ravaged most people’s savings. With additional financial help from a sister in Ecuador, Solis was able to pay for the recommended eight sessions of chemotherapy, which were completed in December.

Solis’ story is a common one among cancer patients in Venezuela. Patients are not just afraid of the disease itself, but they also fear dying because they cannot find or afford the necessary treatment.

Last year, about 4,700 women in Venezuela became ill with breast cancer, according to the Anticancer Society of Venezuela, although the nation’s health ministry has not produced official figures since 2012. The society reported 2,300 women died last year from the disease, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among Venezuelan women.

Cancer
A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough at any time. Pixabay

Senos Ayuda, an NGO that supports breast cancer patients, estimates the number of patients are even higher, at almost 7,000 a year. And it stresses that treatment, medicine and doctors are becoming ever less accessible with the deepening of the nation’s humanitarian emergency.

The problem is part of a wider crisis in public health facilities. According to several Venezuelan doctors’ organizations, 73% of the country’s operating rooms are out of service or lack supplies and have unsanitary conditions.

A survey conducted by the organization Doctors for Health indicated that 90% of radiotherapy facilities are inoperative, 94% of health centers cannot take an X-ray, and 88% of hospitals have insufficient supplies and medicines. The Anticancer Society of Venezuela has reported that 80% of public radiotherapy equipment has been inoperative in the last year.

Solis says she is frustrated the government of President Nicolas Maduro does not accept that Venezuela is in a humanitarian crisis and has done little to address the problem, leading to avoidable cancer deaths.

Cancer
Since 2018, 400,700 women in Venezuela have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. According to the Anti-Cancer Society in Venezuela, getting an accurate numbers of patients is unlikely. Since 2012, the Ministry of Health does not offer official figures. VOA

Another patient, 58-year-old Algeria Dias, was diagnosed with a breast tumor in August 2017. She was able to afford treatment with the help of family, donations, some government help and the sale of the family car, but she says she now she spends every day “going from clinic to clinic, public and private, and see if they have the space or equipment I need to monitor my disease.”

For her part, Solis says she is running out time. She has until December to raise $5,000 to pay for more than 30 additional radiotherapy sessions to prevent the likely return of her cancer.

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“Cancer does not wait. Cancer does not warn and when you have it, it overtakes you. It hurts having the uncertainty of not knowing if you can say, “I am a cancer survivor,” she said. (VOA)