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In a Venezuela Ravaged by Inflation, ‘A Race for Survival’

Venezuelans of all socio-economic classes have been buffeted by sharply rising costs amid desperate scarcities of food and medicine, the collapse of public services and the medical system, and rampant crime. Their purchasing power has plummeted as wage increases have lagged far behind prices.

But affording purchases is only one major challenge. Another is figuring out how to actually pay for them.

The Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, is in short supply, and finding a fistful of them has become one of the nightmares of daily life. People are compelled to endure long lines at cash machines to withdraw maximum amounts equivalent to about 10 cents — just enough to pay for several round trips on a public bus.


A shopper counting cash at an outdoor market in Caracas. The Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, is in short supply, and people endure long lines at cash machines. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The economic turmoil has put families — poor and affluent alike — at the intersection of some very tough choices, bred a stressful uncertainty about the course of any given day and turned the most basic tasks into feats of endurance.

“Something so simple as taking money out of a bank machine or buying a coffee or taking a taxi has become a race for survival,” Mr. Sandoval said.

Some in Venezuela have started equating the nation’s travails to a country during wartime. But the deterioration has in some ways been less dramatic and more insidious.

At first glance the severity of the situation might not be immediately obvious to a newcomer. Viewed from a certain remove, Caracas may seem like any other capital in the developing world: streets crowded with traffic, people hustling to work, shops open and doing business.

But on closer inspection, those impressions quickly fall away to reveal a society falling apart, and people struggling to hold their lives together and make it through the day.

The administration of President Nicolás Maduro stopped publishing inflation data long ago. But the opposition-controlled National Assembly, whose economic data is generally in line with those of private economists, said that the inflation rate hit 45.5 percent in October, up from 36.3 percent the month before, putting Venezuela on the statistical doorstep of hyperinflation, commonly regarded as 50 percent per month or higher.

But hyperinflationary conditions have already existed, economists say, particularly as prices on some key goods and services have risen by more than 50 percent month over month, putting them out of reach of an increasing number of people.

The stress and the costs are rendered most starkly among the poor, where margins of survival are measured in pennies.

For nearly two decades, Beatríz, 53, worked as a nurse in Caracas, a career she loved. Even though she earned only slightly more than minimum wage, she made enough to make ends meet for her and her five children.

“Food was never an issue,” said Beatríz, who, like some others interviewed for this article, asked that her full name be withheld for fear that she would be persecuted by the Maduro administration for criticizing the economic situation.

Several years ago, Beatríz was laid off from her job as the economy worsened, and she found work as the staff cleaner in the Caracas office of an international advertising firm.

She now makes about what she did as a nurse, yet it is no longer enough to cover her family’s basic needs, even though her household has shrunk to only three people: herself, a son and her ailing 76-year-old mother.

Source: NYT > World

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