Venezuela – Going Hungry – Desperate Humanitarian Needs – Women & Children
Date: August 11, 2016
Going Hungry in Venezuela – Desperate Humanitarian Needs – Women & Children
This Venezuela mother eats so little that she cannot breastfeed her baby.
29 July 2016 – It’s one thing to talk to people you’ve never met before who are suffering from hunger, and it’s a completely different thing when they are from your own family, as the BBC’s Vladimir Hernandez discovered when he returned to his native Venezuela to report on its failure to get food on people’s tables.
Travelling through the country this month I saw endless queues of people trying to buy food – any food – at supermarkets and other government-run shops.
I was stopped at a roadblock in the middle of the countryside by people who said they had eaten nothing but mangoes for three days.
I saw the hopeless expression of a mother, who had been eating so little that she was no longer able to breastfeed her baby.
I met a woman affectionately known as la gorda – “the fat one” – whose protruding cheekbones indicated just how much weight she had lost in the last year.
I felt sympathy for all these people, but it was my family who really brought it home to me.
My brother told me all his trousers were now too big. My father – never one to grumble – let slip that things were “really tough”. My mother, meanwhile, confessed that sometimes she only eats once a day. They all live in different parts of Venezuela, but none of them is getting enough to eat. It’s a nationwide problem.
A study by three of the country’s main universities indicates that 90% of Venezuelans are eating less than they did last year and that “extreme poverty” has jumped by 53% since 2014.
There are a number of causes – shortages of basic goods, bad management, a host of speculators and hoarders, and a severe drop in the country’s oil income.
Plus, of course, the highest inflation rate in the world.
The country’s official inflation rate was 180% in December, the last time a figure was made public, but the IMF estimates it will be above 700% by the end of the year
In an attempt to stop speculators and hoarders, the government years ago fixed the price of many basic goods, such as flour, chicken, or bread. But Venezuelans can only buy the goods at these fixed prices once a week, depending on the final digit of the number on their national identity card. If it’s 0 or 1, for example, then you’re allowed to buy on Mondays. For 2 or 3, it’s Tuesdays, and so on.
Because there is a risk of the goods running out, people often arrive at supermarkets in the early hours of the morning, or even earlier. At 6am one morning in Caracas, I met a man who had already been in the queue for three hours. It was pouring with rain, and he didn’t have an umbrella.
“I’m hoping to get rice, but sometimes I’ve queued and then been unable to buy anything because the rice runs out before I get in,” he said.
Even if they are lucky, shoppers are only allowed a restricted amount of items per day. Those who can’t get enough have to wait a full week until their turn comes round again – the tills will automatically reject anyone’s shopping if they arrive on the wrong day.
Media captionPolice surround reporter Vladimir Hernandez and order him to stop filming in a supermarket where shoppers have been queuing for 12 hours
As inflation rises, the incentive grows for people to queue to buy these goods at regulated prices and then sell them on the black market, where a pack of flour can cost 100 times more. The government has promised to crack down on the practice, but so far hasn’t been able to stop it.
For years this oil-rich nation has been increasing food imports in an attempt to guarantee a supply of basic goods, but critics say that price controls and the nationalisation programme of the late president, Hugo Chavez, contributed to the current crisis.
President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected by a slim margin three years ago, after Chavez died, has also had to deal with a drop in oil prices that has reduced the country’s foreign earnings by about two-thirds.
Waiting in line in Venezuela to try to buy food – low supplies, inflated prices. Getty Photo
His latest step has been to create Local Committees of Supplies and Production, better known by the Spanish acronym, CLAP.
The CLAPs essentially mean that the government will stop sending imported food to supermarkets and start handing it over to local community councils.
These entities will register people in their community, assign them a day for shopping, and sell them a plastic bag filled with a number of goods such as flour, pasta and soap, at a fixed price. You cannot choose what you want to buy. You just get what you are given in the bag.
“But this will only be available once a month!” a young mother, Liliana, exclaimed at the roadblock manned by people eating nothing but mangoes.
She admitted to going to bed in tears on days when she had been unable to give her two children any dinner.
In western Venezuela, in the oil-rich province of Zulia, I visited several small towns where people didn’t know what they would eat the following day.
“We’ve always been poor here, that’s true, but we’ve never been hungry,” said Zulay Florido, a community leader in her 50s.
“Since (President) Maduro took power we are in a very bad situation. We call it here ‘the Maduro diet’.
“When Chavez was in power this didn’t happen.”
In Zulia, food was already in the hands of the community councils rather than the supermarkets.
The ultimate aim of the CLAPs is to create self-sustaining communities, where people grow their own food.
I was taken to one of these places by Alejandro Armao, a member of a colectivo – a group of hardcore government supporters, often armed, who are sometimes accused of acts of violence against opposition activists.
Armao introduced me to several colectivo members in a slum called Catia. They appeared to be armed, and were carrying walkie-talkies.
After threatening to kick me out of the area, they agreed in the end to show me what the CLAP was aiming to achieve. I was taken to see a barren field – “which we aim to have ready for crops in eight months” – and several chili plants waiting to be planted.
It was, to say the least, disheartening.
I thought of my mother, and wondered whether this could be the solution for people like her, struggling to eat properly three times a day.
My mother, who’s a staunch government supporter, truly believes it is.
“It will take time but it will happen,” she says.
But I cannot help wondering whether other Venezuelans will be as patient.
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Subject: Venezuela – Acute Humanitarian Disaster – Hunger – Lack of Services – Protests – Women
Venezuela – Acute Humanitarian Disaster – Hunger – Lack of Services – Protests – Women
People argue with members of the National Guard as they try to line in front of a supermarket in Caracas on June 2, 2016. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP/Getty Images
Liliana Rojas shows her empty refrigerator at her home in the poor neighborhood of Catia, Caracas, June 2, 2016. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP/Getty Images
June 20, 2016 – Hungry Venezuelans are increasingly protesting and fighting against the serious shortages of food in what they describe as a spiraling and serious humanitarian crisis.
“I can see the consequences of the massive shortage of food everywhere”, said Carlos Elias, a young Venezuelan from San Cristobal who spoke to NBC News via e-mail. Elias, who goes to college in the U.S., is home for the summer and grappling with a tense situation. “I saw myself in lines that go beyond 6 blocks, people burning tires, and protesting against the government, but it is not vandalism as the government says, it is desperation and anger”, he said.
A recent New York Times article cited a recent assessment of living standards by Simón Bolívar University, which found that 87 percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food. The article also cited a study from the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis that found that Venezuelans spend over 70 percent of their monthly wages on food.
A woman who is a native of Venezuela and is currently living in the U.S. is in her country visiting. She told NBC Latino via texting what she is seeing. “A jar of Nutella that costs $4 in the U.S. costs $24 in Venezuela — the economy has become unstable and unsustainable for those who don’t have economic means,” she said, preferring not to give her name.
Venezuelans are restricted as to when they can go to the supermarket. But they complain that once they obtain their allotted ticket, they have to wait in long lines for high-priced products and near empty shelves.
“When walking in the streets you see how stressed people are with the situation, and even though some cities have more problems than others, there is a common reality, it does not matter if you are rich or poor the shortage is affecting everyone equally”, Elias said.
Recently, Venezuelans have been storming supermarkets and taking whatever they can in order to survive. Food delivery trucks are being ambushed and robbed before they make it to the supermarket.
“The controlled prices are not working. They are only causing those both with money and without money to starve from hunger”, said the woman who preferred to remain anonymous.
The Associated Press has reported that the shortages are affecting other aspects of daily life; 40 percent of teachers skip classes to go stand in food lines.
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but falling oil prices as well as the government’s mishandling of the economy has resulted in one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
Among the top countries in the list for the world’s most miserable economy, Venezuelans have been grappling with the effects of this off-the-charts inflation. Due to hunger, the worsening crime situation, including a high murder rate and violence, many families have had to say goodbye to loved ones.
“We need the world’s attention and those outside this frontier to understand that we are not a democracy right now, so we need to recover democracy in Venezuela with the help of those around us,” Elias said.
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Subject: Venezuela – Failing Hospitals – Dying Babies – Serious Emergency – Country in Crisis
Website Link Includes Photo Series.
Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals – Dying Babies – Country in Crisis
By NICHOLAS CASEYMAY 15, 2016 – Photos by Meridith Kohut
Barcelona, Venezuela — By morning, three newborns were already dead. The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward. Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died.
Broken incubators on the maternity floor of Luis Razetti Hospital, where seven newborns died one recent day.
Patients awaiting emergency care filled a hallway at Luis Razetti Hospital.
The economic crisis in this country has exploded into a public health emergency, claiming the lives of untold numbers of Venezuelans. It is just part of a larger unraveling here that has become so severe it has prompted President Nicolás Maduro to impose a state of emergency and has raised fears of a government collapse.
Hospital wards have become crucibles where the forces tearing Venezuela apart have converged. Gloves and soap have vanished from some hospitals. Often, cancer medicines are found only on the black market. There is so little electricity that the government works only two days a week to save what energy is left.
At the University of the Andes Hospital in the mountain city of Mérida, there was not enough water to wash blood from the operating table. Doctors preparing for surgery cleaned their hands with bottles of seltzer water.
“It is like something from the 19th century,” said Dr. Christian Pino, a surgeon at the hospital.
The figures are devastating. The rate of death among babies under a month old increased more than a hundredfold in public hospitals run by the Health Ministry, to just over 2 percent in 2015 from 0.02 percent in 2012, according to a government report provided by lawmakers.
The rate of death among new mothers in those hospitals increased by almost five times in the same period, according to the report.
Here in the Caribbean port town of Barcelona, two premature infants died recently on the way to the main public clinic because the ambulance had no oxygen tanks. The hospital has no fully functioning X-ray or kidney dialysis machines because they broke long ago. And because there are no open beds, some patients lie on the floor in pools of their blood.
It is a battlefield clinic in a country where there is no war.
“Some come here healthy, and they leave dead,” Dr. Leandro Pérez said, standing in the emergency room of Luis Razetti Hospital, which serves the town.
This nation has the largest oil reserves in the world, yet the government saved little money for hard times when oil prices were high. Now that prices have collapsed — they are around a third what they were in 2014— the consequences are casting a destructive shadow across the country. Lines for food, long a feature of life in Venezuela, now erupt into looting. The bolívar, the country’s currency, is nearly worthless.
The crisis is aggravated by a political feud between Venezuela’s leftists,who control the presidency, and their rivals in congress. The president’s opponents declared a humanitarian crisis in January, and this month passed a law that would allow Venezuela to accept international aid to prop up the health care system.
“This is criminal that we can sit in a country with this much oil, and people are dying for lack of antibiotics,” says Oneida Guaipe, a lawmaker and former hospital union leader.
But Mr. Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez, went on television and rejected the effort, describing the move as a bid to undermine him and privatize the hospital system.
“I doubt that anywhere in the world, except in Cuba, there exists a better health system than this one,” Mr. Maduro said.
Late last fall, the aging pumps that supplied water to the University of the Andes Hospital exploded. They were not repaired for months.
So without water, gloves, soap or antibiotics, a group of surgeons prepared to remove an appendix that was about to burst, even though the operating room was still covered in another patient’s blood.
Even in the capital, only two of nine operating rooms are functioning at the J. M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital.
“There are people dying for lack of medicine, children dying of malnutrition and others dying because there are no medical personnel,” said Dr. Yamila Battaglini, a surgeon at the hospital.
Yet even among Venezuela’s failing hospitals, Luis Razetti Hospital in Barcelona has become one of the most notorious.
In April, the authorities arrested its director, Aquiles Martínez, and removed him from his post. Local news reports said he was accused of stealing equipment meant for the hospital, including machines to treat people with respiratory illnesses, as well as intravenous solutions and 127 boxes of medicine.
Around 10 one recent night, Dr. Freddy Díaz walked down a hall there that had become an impromptu ward for patients who had no beds. Some clutched blood-soaked bandages and called from the floor for help. One, brought in by the police, was handcuffed to a gurney. In a supply room, cockroaches fled as the door swung open.
Dr. Díaz logged a patient’s medical data on the back of a bank statement someone had thrown in the trash.
“We have run out of paper here,” he said.
On the fourth floor, one of his patients, Rosa Parucho, 68, was one of the few who had managed to get a bed, though the rotting mattress had left her back covered in sores.
But those were the least of her problems: Ms. Parucho, a diabetic, was unable to receive kidney dialysis because the machines were broken. An infection had spread to her feet, which were black that night. She was going into septic shock.
Ms. Parucho needed oxygen, but none was available. Her hands twitched and her eyes rolled into the back of her head.
“The bacteria aren’t dying; they’re growing,” Dr. Díaz said, noting that three of the antibiotics Ms. Parucho needed had been unavailable for months.
He paused. “We will have to remove her feet.”
Three relatives sat reading the Old Testament before an unconscious woman. She had arrived six days before, but because a scanning machine had broken, it was days before anyone discovered the tumor occupying a quarter of her frontal lobe.
Samuel Castillo, 21, arrived in the emergency room needing blood. But supplies had run out. A holiday had been declared by the government to save electricity, and the blood bank took donations only on workdays. Mr. Castillo died that night.
For the past two and a half months, the hospital has not had a way to print X-rays. So patients must use a smartphone to take a picture of their scans and take them to the proper doctor.
“It looks like tuberculosis,” said an emergency room doctor looking at the scan of a lung on a cellphone. “But I can’t tell. The quality is bad.”
Finding medicine is perhaps the hardest challenge.
The pharmacy here has bare shelves because of a shortage of imports, which the government can no longer afford. When patients need treatment, the doctors hand relatives a list of medicines, solutions and other items needed to stabilize the patients or to perform surgery. Loved ones are then sent back the way they came to find black-market sellers who have the goods.
The same applies to just about everything else one might need here.
“You must bring her diapers now,” a nurse told Alejandro Ruiz, whose mother had been taken to the emergency room.
“What else?” he asked, clutching large trash bags he had brought filled with blankets, sheets, pillows and toilet paper.
Nicolás Espinosa sat next to his tiny daughter, who has spent two of her five years with cancer. He was running out of money to pay for her intravenous solutions. Inflation had increased the price by 16 times what he paid a year ago.
He flipped through a list of medicines he was trying to find here in Barcelona and in a neighboring city. Some of the drugs are meant to protect the body during chemotherapy, yet the girl’s treatments ended when the oncology department ran out of the necessary drugs a month and a half ago.
Near him, a handwritten sign read, “We sell antibiotics — negotiable.” A black-market seller’s number was listed.
Biceña Pérez, 36, scanned the halls looking for anyone who would listen to her.
“Can someone help my father?” she asked.
Her father, José Calvo, 61, had contracted Chagas’ disease, a sickness caused by a parasite. But the medication Mr. Calvo had been prescribed ran out in his part of Venezuela that year, and he began to suffer heart failure.
Six hours after Ms. Pérez’s plea, a scream was heard in the emergency room. It was Mr. Calvo’s sister: “My darling, my darling,” she moaned. Mr. Calvo was dead.
His daughter paced the hall alone, not knowing what to do. Her hands covered her face, and then clenched into fists.
“Why did the director of this hospital steal that equipment?” was all she could say. “Tell me whose fault is this?”
The ninth floor of the hospital is the maternity ward, where the seven babies had died the day before. A room at the end of the hall was filled with broken incubators.
The glass on one was smashed. Red, yellow and blue wires dangled from another.
“Don’t use — nonfunctional,” said a sign dated last November.
Dr. Amalia Rodríguez stood in the hallway.
“I had a patient just now who needed artificial respiration, and I had none available,” Dr. Rodríguez said. “A baby. What can we do?”
Doctors tried everything they could to keep the babies breathing, pumping air by hand until the employees were so exhausted they could barely see straight, she said. How many babies died because of the blackout was impossible to say, given all of the other deficiencies at the hospital.
“What can we do here?” Dr. Rodríguez said. “Every day I pass an incubator that doesn’t heat up, that is cold, that is broken.”