Nicholas Casey’s chronicle of his first month in Venezuela as a New York Times correspondent is pretty intense.
The road from the Andes spilled into Los Llanos, Venezuela’s agricultural heartland. Rodolfo Palencia, a rancher, spent an afternoon on his hammock, singing us songs he wrote about his state of Barinas, the most fertile part of his country, according to the lyrics.
But the ballads describe another time. Mr. Palencia took us to a field of sugar cane that was 10 feet high, and dead. The nearby sugar mill, built by the government in the early 2000s, could not process the cane this year, he said.
Fields where beans grew were fallow; there had been shortages of fertilizer this year, too. As far as the eye could see, we were surrounded by tall weeds.
And the milk. There is none there either, especially not at La Batalla, an operation that once produced 126,000 liters between three factories annually a decade ago.
It was nationalized, and its factory in La Sabaneta is now an empty outpost. The only employee is a watchman who opened the gate. The gauges on the pumps were unreadable. The cooling system had rusted open. There were bats here.
“Total loss,” began Alirio Alvarado, looking up from an agricultural pond where he once farmed a fish called cachama. Two thousand ponds are in this area, and farmers say they are mostly empty now.
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