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Water from sewer pipes, cooking with tiny candles, and a Happy Meal that costs a month's pay: Photos by ordinary Venezuelans show life under an economic meltdown

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Venezuela compilation

  • Blackouts, hyperinflation, and chronic shortages have become everyday life for millions of Venezuelans.
  • Five people sent INSIDER pictures that show what it’s like to live through the humanitarian crisis.
  • From meat rotting in a warm fridge to a happy meal that is worth more than a monthly salary – they see the effects of the crisis everywhere. 
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Venezuela continues to spiral into a worsening humanitarian crisis as the government and the opposition fight each other for support.

More than 3 million people have left the South American country. But for those who stayed, crippling blackouts, hyperinflation, and chronic food and medicine shortages are their everyday reality.

INSIDER asked Venezuelans to send in pictures that best capture their lives under the crisis.

The internet in Venezuela frequently fails, which can make communication difficult and slow. The photographs were taken in March and April 2019, and reached INSIDER piecemeal over the past few weeks.

They show life before the failed uprising last week, led by opposition politician Juan Guaidó. Despite the drama of Guaidó’s gambit, little has changed for ordinary people. Here is what they showed us.

This worthless “money tree” uses black humor to show Venezuela’s hyperinflation.

This photo is from Jesus Yepez, an architect who lives in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.

He found this “money tree” in the street, made mostly from bills in Venezuela’s currency, the bolívares soberanos, on the street. 

Skyrocketing hyperinflation has made cash almost worthless: $1 is worth roughly 5,200 bolívares soberanos.

Yepez saw local workers adding their tips to the tree, while other people contributed Monopoly money.

“Many people commented that that is what our currency has turned into: Monopoly money,” he told INSIDER. “It’s an ingenious protest for the insane inflation we’ve been experiencing.”

You can follow Jesus Yepez on Instagram.

This man is hunting for food in a garbage dumpster — now an everyday sight in Caracas.

As prices for basic goods like food and medicine have soared, it is pretty common to see people sifting through the trash in the streets of Caracas.

Yepez observed this young man looking through, likely in search of food, clothes, or plastic containers that he could sell.

“I could see by his face that he was hungry,” Yepez said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another photo shows a McDonald’s in Caracas offering a Happy Meal for 18,500 bolivares — more than the monthly minimum wage.

When Yepez took his daughter to buy an ice cream at a McDonald’s — a special treat — the price of the Happy Meal immediately caught his attention.

The meal — a Cajita Feliz in Spanish — cost 18,500 bolivares soberanos ($3.50), a little more than the minimum monthly wage at the time in March.

The government has since raised the wage to 40,000 bolívares soberanos ($7.70).

Yepez said that the restaurant was mostly empty, since eating out is so expensive.

“Seeing how grave the crisis is, all we can do is ‘be happy’,” he said.

 

 

 

“Medicine urgently” scrawled on the side of a highway highlights the chronic — and sometimes deadly — lack of supplies.

“This is more than a simple graffiti,” Yepez wrote on his Instagram post about this spray-painted message on the side of a highway bridge, which means “medicine urgently.”

Venezuelans have experienced an acute medicine shortage as the economy crumbles, and the government can’t afford to import basic drugs and supplies.

Yepez says he has struggled to buy something as simple as flu medicine.

“But my flu is a grain of sand in light of the mountain of needs,” he wrote.

Other people he knows are looking for even more scarce things like morphine to deal with problems like metastases — painful growths spreading through cancer patients’ bodies.

One of the most desperate scenes shows a crowd of people collecting water from a leaking sewer pipe, after the running water to their homes stopped.

This photo is from Stephanie Vita Marcelot, an administrator in Caracas. 

She captured people crowding around a leaking sewage drain to collect water to drink and bathe during a blackout which stopped running water getting to their homes.

Water pumps have been failing regularly because of crippling power outages.

On this day in early March, Marcelot saw people of all ages taking plastic containers, pots, and pans to collect water. Others bathed or played in the leak, she said.

The water was running clear, Marcelot said, even though it came out of dirty pipes that feed into the polluted Guaire river.

She told INSIDER: “The sad reality was that no one had the faintest idea what risk they were taking by collecting this water, even if they just use it to shower.”

“Many people told me they had gone days without running water, and this was the only place they could get it.”

Though the power outages were at their worst in March and April, many parts of the capital still struggle with water shortages, she said. 

You can follow Stephanie Vita Marcelot on Instagram. 

Frequent black-outs also mean no electric lighting. These ketchup bottles, turned into kerosene lamps, are a make-shift way to keep the lights on.

This photo is from Dinora Lucia Villalba Navarro, an engineer in the northern city of Maracay. 

She started making her own kerosene lamps with her husband when nationwide blackouts kicked off in March. 

“With so many days without electricity, one needs a generator, which many of us don’t have,” she told INSIDER.

Intermittent power outages still persist in Maracay. That means Villalba cannot count on light, water, gas, refrigeration, phone service, internet, or ATMs. 

The DIY lamps have been popular among friends and colleagues, she said, because they don’t require electricity or expensive, scarce batteries.

She also taught her brother how to make them because he broke his nose in the dark during one blackout. 

 

It’s also hard to cook with no power. This photo shows an improvised stove, used to cook an arepa from the heat of a single candle.

This photo is from Stiven Landeata, an economics student from Mérida in northwestern Venezuela.

He improvised this stove with a candle because the gas was not working during one of the many power outages. 

“And we managed to eat. It was slow, but we made it,” he told INSIDER. 

He had not eaten since breakfast when he finally had his arepa, at 10:30 p.m.

Landeata could not buy food because the card readers were down, and barely anyone in Venezuela uses cash since the hyperinflation began.

You can follow Stiven Landeata on Instagram. 

 

 

This pile of worthless cash is another reminder of the grim economic situation.

Landeata still has a mound of cash in the old currency — bolívares fuertes — which were in circulation until last August.

The pile of money was worth almost nothing even before it was replaced by the bolívares soberanos.

Maduro slashed five zeroes from the new currency to combat the hyperinflation, but prices have continued to soar. 

Bloomberg’s Cafe con Leche Index found that annual inflation hit 199,900% on May 1. 

Even if you can get hold of food, the lack of proper refrigeration means it can easily rot, like this.

This photo is from a Caracas woman who asked to stay anonymous. 

She had to throw out 4kg (8.8 lbs) of beef during one of the blackouts in the capital of Caracas.

Her food started rotting after spending days in a warm fridge.

“Meat is really expensive here. The price goes up every week, so it’s hard to see it rot without being able to do anything about it,” she told INSIDER.  

 

A meal like this is all most people can hope for — and even that doesn’t come without sacrifice.

The same woman also shared an image of one of her meals during the blackouts: a fried egg, rice, and ketchup.

Without power, she could not take public transport to the supermarket to buy anything else.

“This is not a dignified lunch, and other people eat even less than this,” she told INSIDER.

With food prices skyrocketing, many Venezuelans can’t afford to buy the hearty meals they were used to, she continued.

“But it gets to a point where you have to decide between buying eggs or toilet paper,” she said.

“Because you can’t do both or your entire salary for the month is gone.”

 

 

 

 

 

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