Venezuela crisis about survival, not politics, for nation’s poor

Venezuela crisis about survival, not politics, for nation’s poor

Carolina beckons us into the hilltop slum where she and her extended family live. The drive up has taken us past burned-out police stations, overturned rubbish bins, the remains of tire fires — the tell-tale signs that the poor of Caracas, once President Nicolas Maduro’s support base inside Venezuela, are turning.

Inside her three-room apartment, she shows me a tiny bowl of scrambled egg. “This is for four persons,” she says. She opens the fridge and, along with mold and aging condiments, are two bottles of soda, but little else. This is life now for the Venezuelan poor. Maduro used to feed them; and they supported him back. 

But now — like every other constant of Venezuelan life — that is collapsing.

 

The fury here is not political or bound in the geopolitical tussle that the nation’s fate has become. It’s about food, like it really is elsewhere too.

Nick Paton Walsh

The night before we arrived, the special police forces of Maduro were inside their community and shots were fired. They have continued to return all afternoon, causing Carolina to twitch. 

She shows us video of the raids the night before, and the tire fires and pot-banging (a local sign of loud protest) that preceded them. 

“My hand was shaking,” she says, apologizing for the wobbly footage.

This is an often-untold element of Venezuela’s crisis, which often focuses on the mild, simmering bourgeois anger in the streets in support of self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, recognized by much of the West and Venezuela’s neighbors. 

But the slums, which once benefited from the largesse of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Maduro, have fallen the hardest. 

The deaths in clashes with police now often evade the headlines and meld into the 80 murders a day blighting Venezuela nationwide. 

The fury here is not political or bound in the geopolitical tussle that the nation’s fate has become. 

It’s about food, like it really is elsewhere too. One cousin, named Ronny, said: “We can’t hold it in anymore. We are being crushed. We are beggars now, always begging. This isn’t political, it’s survival. People are killing each other for a kilo of rice, or flour, or water.”

On the other side of town, near a richer street of restaurants, a gang of children roams, settling on a pile of trash near the river to scavenge for food. 

They are united by the bleached hair they all sport as their gang’s sign.

Fourteen-year-old Uzmaria is the most vocal, as two of the older boys play-fight with knives — not for innocent amusement but for practice in self-defense. 

“We gather stuff, we beg, a piece of chicken skin to take home,” Uzmaria says. 

“My brother got killed in July by another gang. He just disappeared and then they found the body in the river.”

As the sun drops over Caracas’ once glittering infrastructure, one of the boys plays with a stick as a rifle. “Maduro,” he yells as he takes fake aim. 

“I am hungry,” he cries before seizing up with a wheezing cough....

 

• Nick Paton Walsh is senior international correspondent at CNN. 

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