‘Every time you buy less’: Venezuela teeters on the brink
With more oil reserves than anywhere else in the world, Venezuela should be drowning in riches.
Instead, the country, and its 30 million inhabitants are on the brink of collapse: financially, and, for many, physically.
In Caracas, the capital, men scavenge daily in the putrid Guaire River.
They pour down from the barrios, raking their hands through stinking, toxic mud in the hopes of finding the tiniest bit or metal, jewellery — anything of value — that they could sell for food.
Nearly two decades of socialist rule during which food and oil production have plummeted amid poor management of state resources and a drop in world crude prices have driven many Venezuelans into desperation and bloody civil unrest.
The minimum wage for public employees in Venezuela is less than $7 a month at the black market exchange rate. Food is increasingly hard to find or afford.
A common scene in Caracas is poor Venezuelans scouring garbage piles for food.
An estimated 75 per cent of Venezuelans lost an average of 8.7 kilograms last year, according to one recent survey, AP reports.
Make it to the market, and the funds don’t go far.
“Every time you go shopping you buy less and your budget is limited to food,” 50-year-old tourism employee David Ascanio told AFP as he shopped in a Caracas market.
In the lead-up to Christmas, there were riots by protesters desperate for food and financial relief. There were reports of looting across the country.
It wrapped a year of violent protest, desperation, frustration, and demand for political and economic reform and an end to authoritarian rule in a country at the point of collapse.
Despite Maduro’s announcement of a minimum-wage increase, most Venezuelans will still earn only about $7 a month in salary and food vouchers, based on the commonly-used black market exchange rate.
The government says 13 million Venezuelan workers earn the minimum wage or receive the vouchers, out of a workforce of 19.5 million.
Ever-rising inflation means the basic income barely buys a basket of staples like kilo of meat, 30 eggs, a kilogram of sugar and a kilogram of onions.
Last weekend, the government forced more than 200 supermarkets in Caracas to lower prices, causing huge lines to form outside as Venezuelans jumped at the chance to stretch their scant funds.
In the business district of the capital, 53-year-old housewife Raquel Benarroch told AFP she had little hope.
“Before, we saw the bottom of the abyss,” she said.
“Now we see things much blacker than that.”
By Debbie Schipp
The News in Colour