Poor, bereaved, hopeless: faces of Venezuela crisis

Agence France-Presse
A police officer carries a woman who fainted while gathering to try to buy pasta outside a supermarket in Caracas.
A police officer carries a woman who fainted while trying to buy pasta at a supermarket in Caracas.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Venezuelans are suffering economic and political turmoil that has caused food shortages and deadly unrest over recent months.

AFP interviewed five of the human faces of the crisis: ordinary citizens whose lives have been thrown into chaos.

The bereaved 

Riot police officers clash with demonstrators during a protest called by university students against Venezuela's government in Caracas on June 9, 2016.

Elizabeth Arana chokes on her tears as she sits in the morgue where her brother Roswill's body lies.

The 28-year-old policeman was shot dead, one of thousands of victims of deadly violence in Venezuela.

He left behind a four-year-old son. Media reports suggested he was killed for his motorbike. But his sister reckons it was a targeted assassination.

"I've got a pain in my insides," from the grief, she sobs.

The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an NGO, estimates there were 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year — some 28,000 killings overall including killings during police operations.

Authorities said five people were killed during protests and looting in June.

The sick 

A woman sleeps in the waiting room of the pediatric emergency section of the University Hospital in Merida, Venezuela, on June 17, 2016. The sign on the wall reads, 'There are no antibiotics to cure, supplies to work, water to wash the hands, solutions to hydrate, adrenalin to reanimate.'

Administrative worker Yasmari Bello, 39, can no longer get the treatment she needs for her breast cancer.

The price of Venezuela's crucial oil exports has plunged. The country no longer has enough dollars to import the medicine it needs.

"They suspended my treatment from January to May," Bello said.

"I suffered stress. I lost weight. I felt I had fought the illness for months and I could relapse."

The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimates that 85 percent of necessary medicines are in short supply.

Eventually Bello got hold of medication sent from Spain. Her current batch will last until mid-July.

"I do not blame the government or the opposition," she says. "I am just a patient looking for a solution."

Wasted youth 

People line up to buy food at a store in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 23, 2016.

Eugenia Parra is studying to be a pharmacist, but her studies risk being disrupted by having to queue at the shops.

"There is a queue for everything here. To get cash, to buy food," says Parra, 28.

In the end she leaves the queue empty-handed. If she waits any longer she will miss lectures, compromising her future.

Richer families can obtain the supplies they need from black market retailers known as "bachaqueros." But Parra relies on the subsidized rations.

"A bachaquero earns more than a professional. I've lost all hope. The first chance I get I will leave" the country, Parra says.

"Staying here means wasting your youth."


Vendors sell bananas at a market in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 21, 2016.

At his food cart in the street, Jenner Moron is making stacks of cash. The problem is, they are worth little.

Rampant inflation has dragged down the value of the Venezuelan bolivar.

"When I get home I think I am bringing back some earnings but when I go to pay a bill I realize I have nothing," says Moron, 21. "It's an illusion".

After selling a few dozen hotdogs, he has so many banknotes that it isn't safe to carry them in the street.

He rushes to a safe deposit box four times a day to stash them.

The International Monetary Fund estimates Venezuela's inflation rate will hit 720 percent this year.

The inflation of prices combined with the devaluation of the currency has created an absurd economic reality for businesses like Moron's.

He used to sell up to 500 hotdogs a day in the busy streets of Caracas. Now he sells about 120. The price in bolivars has soared, but the value of that currency has plunged.

"We have more cash coming in, but we are earning less."


A man sells second-hand goods on a street in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 25, 2016.

Elsewhere in the capital, however, Denia, 52, is making a wide profit margin.

She can sell a bag of sugar for up to 40 times the official price. Those who can afford to will buy it just for the convenience of not having to queue for hours.

Denia would not give her last name because she is breaking the law with her part-time job. To top up her income as a porter, she is also a "bachaquera."

The nickname for the black market retailers comes from "bachaco," a kind of ant that hoards food.

"Whenever I get a chance, I wait in a queue" to buy sugar, flour or rice, Denia says.

She can buy a kilo of sugar for 70 bolivars at the subsidized rate and sell it on the street for 3,000.

The government officially rations citizens to two units of each basic product per week.

But Denia gets hold of more by bribing state employees and distributors. She risks five years in jail for hoarding.

Datanalysis estimates that in any given queue outside a shop, half of those standing in line are buying to resell.

Venezuela's minimum wage is 33,600 bolivars — just $54 at the official fixed exchange rate.

"No one can live on that," says Denia.