I’ve written how Venezuela is a socialist hellhole. The people are starving. It’s got to the point where people were eating out of garbage cans and breaking into zoos for meat. Pets are being eaten. Children are resorting to prostitution for food. Medical supplies are dangerously low. It’s to the point where a couple of years ago, there were reports that hospitals were operating under 19th-century conditions. Of course, looting is rampant, crime is up, and to prevent the appearance of the country falling apart, there’s a new food police unit: it’s illegal to wait in line for the supermarket to open. With the country in an economic spiral downward, inflation has gone through the roof. The nation is a mess. You already know this. To add to the misery, families can no longer afford to bury their loved ones in caskets. They’re rented, returned, and the bodies are buried in plastic bags.
Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world, but under the leadership of Nicolas Maduro, its hospitals lack equipment, medicines, food, anesthetics and even pens. The doctors who remain face a daily struggle to treat patients with little more than hope.
Little Joniel Briceño is much too small and too light for life. He’s eight months old and weighs 5 kilograms (11 pounds), little more than many newborns. His mother has carried him here from their small village. It involved two hours of walking to the bus stop with her son in her arm and then a two-hour ride with the bus. Now, Joniel is here, in bed number two, under a Donald Duck decal that someone adhered to the wall.
Joniel isn’t the only kid with an emaciated face, swollen legs and distended belly in the emergency room of the children’s department of the Dr. Luis Razetti de Barcelona University Hospital in Barcelona, a large city located about 300 kilometers (200 miles) east of the capital of Caracas. The doctors and nurses call the department “Africa.” Nowhere is the desperate situation the country finds itself in more clearly visible than in its hospitals.
Venezuela, the country with the largest known oil reserves in the world, is bankrupt. It once was one of the richest nations on the continent, but now the people are starving, especially in the interior of the country. The economy collapsed in 2014, and now there are regular protests and riots because stores lack food and everyday items like toilet paper and detergent. Armed guards stand at the entryways of supermarkets, and the annual inflation rate of 42,000 percent is eating up people’s incomes. The poor are starving, the weak and the sick are dying, youths are joining criminal gangs. Anyone who can afford to is leaving the country.
An Existential Crisis
Former president Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, once made himself popular with the poor by using oil income to finance social programs. The state oil company, however, didn’t have enough money for investment. Corruption and mismanagement thrived. Under Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, the country fell into an existential crisis.
The government provides little money to the hospitals, but won’t allow any aid into the country either. Doing so would make it clear that Maduro’s autocratic government has failed. According to UNICEF, 15 percent of all children in Venezuela are undernourished.
Several of the worst cases come here, to the Razetti university hospital in Barcelona, with 10 beds in the children’s emergency ward. Up to three children are kept in some beds. There are dead cockroaches on the floor, and at night a cat saunters through the rundown rooms, which lack everything — blood glucose test strips, nutrient solutions, antibiotics and anesthetics.
In earlier days, the hospital had been an exemplary clinic, responsible for the entire eastern part of the country. Patients even come here from the Amazon region and the capital. The main building is nine stories high, an imposing red brick structure. “Africa” is located next door, in the children’s hospital. Every day, a dozen children are brought here, and one child dies almost daily. It’s here where little Jionel is now fighting for his life.
His mother, Yeriyoli Pérez, 25, a young woman with eyes that make her look much older and who weighs 39 kilograms (85 pounds) after losing 16 kilograms in the last six months, stands next to his bed. Her T-shirt flaps around her gaunt body. She mostly feeds herself and her son with corn. Her breastmilk has run dry. “We eat what we can get,” she says quietly. The doctors have recommended meat and milk products, but who can afford them?
Pérez only has 1 million bolívars per month at her disposal, the equivalent of one euro. She has no work and no money for anything, including baby food. One can of it costs 2 million bolívars — that is, if you can even find it in the supermarket in the first place.
A Clinic That Lacks Everything
They haven’t had any baby formula at Razetti university hospital since January. Sometimes the doctors have even bought food for the patients, one nurse says. “But they barely earn anything themselves,” she says. So, there’s little they can do for Joniel other than hope. And fan away the flies circling above him with a piece of cardboard.
There is nothing left at Razetti university hospital — no medication, no toilet paper, no diapers, nothing for cleaning or disinfecting, no bed linens, not even a pen and paper for the doctors. Loose cables hang from the ceiling in the bathroom, the color is crumbling from the wall, there hasn’t been any water for washing hands for weeks. The X-ray machine is broken, oxygen for the respirators is lacking and the air conditioning can’t be operated. The intensive care unit is out of commission, just like the operating room, because of missing instruments and equipment. Only a monitor that communicates the most important vital signs still works, quietly peeping. One last sign of civilization.
In the bed next to Joniel there are two twins thrashing about, one month old, who have been here for two weeks with diarrhea and vomiting. They need blood transfusions, but there are no blood reserves and the lab has been closed for months. Their mother could theoretically buy blood at a private hospital, but where would she get the money?
A Dramatic Increase in Child Mortality
The child mortality rate in the country has risen dramatically in the past few years. The government is trying to cover up the crisis and has been keeping most of the health statistics secret for years. The most recent annual figures publicly released by the Health Ministry, from 2015, show that the mortality rate for children under the age of four weeks had increased by 100 percent in three years — from 0.02 percent in 2012 to more than 2 percent. In early May of last year, the Health Ministry suddenly released reports showing that the deaths among children under 12 months had risen by almost one-third within one year, to 11,446. Since then, the economic crisis has only gotten much worse.
As the crisis in Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship deepens – gripped by mass hunger, starvation and a lack of medical supplies – there is no comfort even for the dead.
“What is happening is medieval. People are ‘renting’ caskets for a service, but giving them back. The same casket is being used over and over again because people cannot afford to buy one,” Venezuelan opposition leader Julio Borges, who has been living in exile in the Colombian capital of Bogota for the past nine months, told Fox News. “And then they have to wrap the body in plastic bags for the burial. Others don’t have money for a land plot, so they are burying loved ones in their back garden.”
One Venezuelan, who asked his name not be published, described the sudden death of his father in the capital Caracas last week, which left the family without a vehicle to take the body to the morgue. It took more than a day for the body to be collected.
And even then, the family had to say their goodbyes – they had no money for a funeral, or burial – praying the body would be disposed of in some kind of mass cremation.
For every day a body remains in the morgue, the cost rises, leaving families without the means for collection. In such cases, loved ones are simply left stranded – their relatives in mourning, not knowing what to do, and without closure.
It all started as a small liberal movement wanting the government to give more aid to the people They demanded less separation of status between the wealthy and the poor, They demanded more government involvement in social care and social jobs, Nationalization of the countries resources, and higher welfare for the poor among other things. Sound Familiar?
Welcome to 21st-century Socialism, folks.