14 de agosto de 2020
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Three snapshots of Venezuela's ongoing crisis

By Ron Gonzalez

Caracas/Maracaibo, Jul 2 (efe-epa).- The severe crisis besetting Venezuela for more than five years is evidenced each day by the collapse of public services, massive emigration that has fractured families and the implosion of the economy, which just a few decades ago was an example for the region.

Each day, millions of Venezuela suffer in some way from at least one of these three issues, all of them related to the plunge in the economy of a country with the largest proven petroleum reserves on the planet and tourist potential that used to attract millions of visitors.

These are just three of the snapshots of life in a situation that the local parliament - which is mired in its own crisis with two competing governing boards who are fighting it out for control of the legislative branch - has called "complex" and which has many facets.

Here are three photographs that offer an overall view of the Venezuelan crisis and how it's affecting the country's citizens.

Retiree Hilda Marquez each day recalls with nostalgia her son Sergio, who years ago fled the Venezuelan crisis to settle in Chile, just like about 400,000 of his countrymen, according to official figures.

"I miss him like you can't believe. You don't want your children to leave, or for anyone to leave," the 76-year-old told EFE.

But Marquez - who lives in a humble house in western Caracas - prefers to miss her son rather than see him return to Venezuela, where he will only face "calamities" and hunger.

"He tells me he's doing fine, he's continuing at his job, and now with things the way they are (due to the coronavirus pandemic) he tells me he's working from home," she said, recalling their last conversation. "And if things are good there, why would he come back here to have more troubles, like we're having?"

Sergio is one of the five million Venezuelans who has fled the crisis in recent years, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Venezuelan experts have said that the migrants are helping their families financially by sending remittances - calculated at some $3 billion in 2019 - along with food, clothing, shoes and assorted other items.

But that doesn't mitigate the sadness that the older people feel with their children and grandchildren living abroad.

Caracas resident Nelson Pacheco has a job in a bakery, where he earns the minimum wage - 400,000 bolivares ($1.95) per month.

He also works at the parking lot of a restaurant, a business that has suffered due to the coronavirus, and he gets social subsidies from the Nicolas Maduro government.

Even so, his monthly earnings don't exceed $10.

"It's tough," Pacheco told EFE regarding trying to live on less than 50 cents per day. "You have to know how to survive, how to stretch out the little you earn to be able to eat, (because) your pay doesn't cover anything else."

In Venezuela, more than seven million people - including public employees and retirees - bring in monthly amounts similar to Pacheco, meaning that some 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, which estimates that one must earn at least $2 per day to rise above that level.

How to make ends meet? Pacheco says that the solution many arrive at is "To beg, sometimes to beg."

Maria Alvarado keeps several liters of water in containers to tide her over when the water service goes out in Maracaibo, her hometown and the capital of Zulia state, one of the regions hardest hit by the Venezuelan crisis.

"The water comes, sometimes, only every two weeks. Sometimes there's none, and when it does come it's like tamarind water," the 33-year-old told EFE, comparing the color of the water to the brownish juice of a popular citrus fruit in Venezuela.

"It's dirty," said Alvarado, who lives in a house she shares with five other people, three of them younger siblings.

Rationing the water is a challenge, she said. A large part of what they can store comes from a private clinic near the house.

"The Zulia clinic supplies us with water from a well. Three times a week it gives water to the community," she said.

But the biggest challenge for the family is preparing their food each day, given the ongoing cooking gas shortage in Zulia.

Maria could use the electric stove in the house, but the power blackouts are frequent in Maracaibo and that, too, makes cooking difficult.

"(The power) goes out every day," she said.

The problems with the electricity are changing the consumption habits of Venezuelans, who - more and more - are getting food that doesn't need to be refrigerated.

The shortages, in addition, have motivated Alvarado to think that public services in Venezuela shouldn't be paid for anyway, and she hasn't paid her utility bills for more than a year.

"They can't charge for something that's so inefficient," she said.

In Venezuela, the public utilities have collapsed, but although there is a cost to the public for them, that cost is so low that they are almost free.

Electricity, for example, is the least expensive in the region and it is not cut off if users don't pay their monthly bill.

"It should make them ashamed that we have an inefficient government," Alvarado said before offering her solution to the crisis: regime change, "because whatever we do, we're never going to solve things if we have an inefficient government."

EFE

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