In Venezuela, plagued with chronic food shortages and a devastated economy, Carmen Elena Perez describes her refrigerator as merely “an ornament in my kitchen, because filling it costs me too much money.”
Dulce Maria Garcia Leon, in the western state of Trujillo, says she has corn masa and “a little bit of cottage cheese” and eggs, though her fridge often holds “only cold.”
Vane Vargas jokes that her refrigerator, with its top-mount freezer, “is like the North Pole: ice above, water below.”
Bitter humor remains among the few things in plentiful supply in this once-wealthy South American country, where many of its 31 million people struggle to find enough to eat.
So VOA’s Spanish Service invited Facebook and Twitter users there to dish about the contents of their refrigerators and cupboards. The informal, unscientific survey drew more than 60 responses – 54 on Facebook, nine on Twitter – offering a glimpse into daily lives.
Now, few people mark their days with three full meals. Instead, many count the hours spent standing in line for bread, oil and other basics.
“We eat what we can get,” says Elvis Mercado of El Tigre, a city about 340 kilometers southeast of the capital. Usually it’s a meal of arepas, the Venezuelan pan-fried staple made from corn flour, “because the salary is not enough to buy food for a fortnight.”
A raise, but little respite
Seeking to counter widespread protests, socialist President Nicolas Maduro this week ordered a 60 percent raise in the minimum wage, including food subsidies and pension increases. That translates to roughly 200,000 bolivares a month – or $278 at the official currency exchange rate on May 5.
But, given a scarcity of dollars as well as consumer goods, that amount has the buying power of just $39 on the black market – the one in which everyone does business. The International Monetary Fund predicts Venezuela’s inflation rate – already one of the world’s highest – could reach 720 percent this year.
With increases in both wages and prices, “we are practically in the same” spot, Jhonaiker Daniel Rodriguez says.
“Thank you very much, but what is needed is to keep prices stable,” Nancy Haydee Roa says.
Rsan Leuqim writes that a carton of eggs is 11,000 bolivares ($2.15) – roughly 5 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s monthly total.
If you can find eggs. Many survey respondents complained of shortages of consumer goods, most of which are imported.
“We go to a store and there is nothing! If there is, it is very expensive,” Dexcy Ramirez says via Facebook. Near her home in Barinas, in west-central Venezuela, “a kilo of [powdered] milk costs 20,000bv” or $3.91.
Adreina Chauran Pineda frets about imports: “A soda is worth three days’ salary, a little vegetable soup is worth 1,500bv (29 cents). … A kilo of meat is worth 10,000” – or $1.96.
Rising costs have altered Paula Pena’s diet. “I buy grains,” she writes on Facebook, saying it’s what she and her family now primarily rely on for nutrition. She purchases meat, including chicken, “when we can. We cannot buy fruits or vegetables.”
Yamile Corona of Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city, writes of being “blessed with the mango tree.”
Scarcity generally is more pervasive outside of Caracas.
Shortages of food and medicine last year sparked dozens of riots and spasms of looting in parts of the country. Desperation has driven some people to forage for wild roots, occasionally with dire consequences. A young man in the eastern city of Maturin died on his 16th birthday last July after eating bitter yuca, a toxic plant, The New York Times reported in chronicling the case.
Luzdary Mussa Uribe writes that she once was well fed but has involuntarily lost weight: “What we are is yellow and thin.”
Government-subsidized food delivery
Last year, the government created a program called Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAPs) to manage distribution and combat hoarding. Community leaders deliver bags or boxes of foodstuffs to the homes of people who’ve registered.
“Only rice, milk, grains and flour are in the bags that the government sells,” [email protected] tells VOA via Twitter. “I have never received one. … And the corn meal that is really our daily bread, you just do not get it.”
Liliana Vasqez, who lives in Rio Chico in Miranda state, says she recently paid 10,500bv ($2.06) for a CLAP box containing a liter of oil, six cans of tuna, four bags of rice, small jars of mayonnaise and catsup, some pasta and a kilo of flour. Vasquez – whose son relayed her information to VOA – says it was the second time that a CLAP delivery was made in her neighborhood since the program began.
Nelly Mendez, a survey respondent from an unknown location in Venezuela, says she’s gotten deliveries “every 3 months of a case of CLAP” and the contents last just for two days.
The CLAP program has been criticized for inconsistency and for allegedly favoring supporters of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
“Sadly, both scarcity and hunger” mark the “disastrous reality” for Venezuelans, Raul Ernesto Gonzalez Salazar tells VOA.
For now, humor makes the situation almost palatable.
“The refrigerators are on vacation,” Nery Acevdo echoes, adding that soon hungry Venezuelans “will eat whatever we see.”