To visit Venezuela today is to see how misrule can shatter a country. Years of corrupt, incompetent and autocratic rule have left Venezuelans hungry and children dying for want of basic medical care. Daniela Serrano, above, lost a child this year to malnutrition and now watches apprehensively as her daughter, Daryelis, 3, undergoes a health exam at a clinic affiliated with an aid group, Proyecto Nodriza. Some Venezuelans fear that famine lies ahead, and it seems easier to find supporters of President Nicolás Maduro on an American university campus than in Venezuela itself. Words can’t capture the misery, so I’m giving my column space over to photos of people I met on a recent visit. People were willing to be photographed and share their stories so that the world could understand what their country is enduring.
A doctor measures Daryelis’s head circumference as part of a health check. Many Venezuelan children are malnourished, resulting in physical stunting. But while the impact on stature is obvious, development experts worry even more about the lifelong effect of malnutrition on the developing brain, fearing that the result will be a generation that is at a perpetual cognitive disadvantage.
Miriam Bravo plays with her baby in her shack in a Caracas slum. She still has a job as a seamstress, but her world has changed because of the nation’s financial crisis: Her husband died last year of a heart ailment after being unable to get blood pressure medicine.
Miriam’s daughter, Adriana, looks after her younger brother, Archi, at a soup kitchen where they regularly eat lunch. Children grow up quickly in the slums, and Archi sometimes calls Adriana “Mom.”
Adriana outside the family house. The home has stood alone, apart from the rest of the slum, since a fire swept through the neighborhood one evening. Residents frantically called the fire department beginning at 10 p.m., but a fire truck didn’t arrive until 6 the next morning — and it had no water. By the time the fire was extinguished, 17 homes nearby had been destroyed.
Paola Moncada, 14, is pregnant with her second child; she had wanted to be a lawyer but dropped out of school in the fifth grade when she became pregnant with her first child. She says that she became pregnant because she could no longer afford birth control pills, and other forms of contraception are largely unavailable. Paola’s grandmother moved from Italy to Venezuela in 1957 because at that time it seemed a more promising country in which to live. Now Paola says she hopes her children grow up somewhere other than Venezuela.
Paola’s son, Jhosander, is almost 2 years old and faces an uncertain future. The family once supported the socialism of President Hugo Chávez, but Paola’s stepfather now dismisses socialism as “garbage.”
Elsys Silgado, 21, during a health check run by a nonprofit and held in a church. Elsys survives by selling candy from a stand, but she is not always able to feed her two children. If it weren’t for this aid group and the free meals it offers, she might not manage at all. The aid group itself is struggling because it says the government won’t allow it to accept foreign donations.
A friend walking Elsys’s two children, Alaska and Jeiko, and a third child through their neighborhood. Alaska, 5, almost died of malnutrition recently and was rushed to a hospital weighing just 26 pounds. The hospital would not admit her, saying it did not have room for more patients. Elsys worries that Alaska will not survive the economic crisis.