With the economy in freefall and hunger widespread, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to wage an "economic war" on the enemies of his country's socialist experiment.
"If the bourgeoisie hide the food, I myself will bring it to your house," Maduro said in March.
It hasn't worked out that way. Hungry Venezuelans are now depending on relatives and friends in other countries to send food.
"People are dying of hunger now," Tere Caicedo, a Venezuelan immigrant to Los Angeles, recently told The Los Angeles Times. Caicedo has been sending rice, beans and sugar to the country when possible.
"Before it was out of enjoyment, a Christmas gift," Caicedo recalled. "Now it's necessity."
For years, Venezuela's economy was propped up by high oil prices. Now oil is selling at $50 per barrel, and inflation has soared to more than 700 percent. Food and other basic goods have become scarce. Many Venezuelans in the U.S. are scrambling to send aid to their friends and family back home. Venezuelan schools have shortened their hours because so many children are malnourished that they struggle to go through a full school day, and many people have resorted to scavenging for food in dumpsters.
Several charity organizations have stepped in to help too, including the South Florida–based Humanitarian Aid for Venezuela Program, which has donated 450,000 pounds of supplies in the last couple of years.
Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic poverty relief organization, has detailed the damage the food shortages have done. According to Caritas' surveys, one in 10 Venezuelan children under the age of 5 currently suffers from malnutrition.
"So what has happened is that lots of children get to school practically fainting, because they haven't eaten anything all day," Jesi Urbano, a Venezuelan mother, told The New York Times.
Venezuelan children have missed an average of 40 percent of their usual class time, according to the Associated Press. And even when students are fed, their teachers often cancel classes to wait in line for food rations.
Over 10 million Venezuelan parents skip at least one meal so that their children can get the nutrition they need, according to a survey conducted by several Venezuelan universities. The same study found that 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds in 2016.
The government is now encouraging citizens to raise rabbit livestock. Some people have started stealing zoo animals for food. According to Caritas, one in 12 Venezuelans survive by scavenging for leftover food in the garbage bins outside restaurants and grocery stores. The New York Times documented such a case in a recent video, where a Venezuelan mother goes through a supermarket's trash in order to feed her family.
Susana Raffalli, a humanitarian specialist in Venezuela, talked with Caritas this past April, detailing the inequities she's witnessed while working in the capital city of Caracas. "You still see fancy restaurants and people living a normal life in the capital," she says. "But even in those areas, in the early morning, you see people going through trash bins looking for food."
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