A “grave” situation

Presenting the Cardboard Coffin: the ultimate synthesis of Venezuela's worst problems — a collapsed health care system, violence, and pervasive shortages.


In Venezuela today there are two certain things: death and shortages. But not even the first one can save you from the second one: there aren’t enough coffins to keep up with demand and the funeral sector is in crisis. One new twist to the way-too-common story of shortages of basic goods and skyrocketing prices.

Over at Notiminuto they went to the last General Assembly of the National Chamber of Funerary Services (Canadefu) to talk to the people in the field:

“The situation has gotten worse since February. We should receive over 400 tonnes of steel sheets every month and it’s been close to a month and a half since we received any. The inventory is getting smaller but it more or less keeps on working because the manufacturers buy the sheets at very high prices,” said Tomás Rodríguez, the President of Canadefu. He also said that an urn costs between 75,000 and 80,000 bolivars, and the complete funerary service now costs 200,000 bolivars.

Funeral expenses are something we don’t talk about much; it feels weirded out putting a price on our last goodbye. But in the context of the Venezuelan economy, the medical crisis and high crime rates this is a serious social issue and another blow to families’ economy.

Some companies have decided to make less elaborate coffins, using no steel and lower quality wood products to alleviate shortages and offer cheaper options. But it doesn’t stop there:

Another material is now being used given the crisis: corrugated cardboard. This coffin, according to its manufacturers, obeys all (but one) health regulations and has the necessary resistance.

Elio Angulo, the director of the company that makes this coffin, explained that it is already used in other countries like Colombia, Argentina, Perú and Spain. The biocoffin is made with triple layer corrugated cardboard and reinforced with five sheets. It has a resistance of 130 kg and it has a slightly plastified paper that insulates the cardboard from any liquid.

Go ahead and watch the video for a demonstration of how it looks and how it can actually carry a person. Don’t worry, they use a live model! According to the regulations it can’t be used for burial, but it can be used for transportation, from a funeral home to a crematorium for example.

“If it was used for burials the moisture would tear it apart very quickly, leaving the body exposed, it would be like just putting a body in the ground and covering it with earth” said Gerardo Arias, the Chamber’s director in the video interview.

Hey, I’m all for products that reduce our environmental impact and it’s true biodegradable coffins are becoming more popular, but it’s one thing to do it as a personal choice and another to be forced to use a cardboard box as a coffin because that’s all that’s available.

Or maybe it’s just one more reason why Caracas is becoming a hipster town.

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  1. Human burial (or cremation) of the dead has accumulated so many rites and rituals that we have nearly forgotten the original purpose, which was (and still is) to prevent the bodies from being eaten by wild animals. It is a food chain thing. We don’t want other carnivores to develop a taste for human flesh. Burying corpses a minimum of 1.8 meters deep in the ground is sufficient to prevent any animal from smelling the corpse and digging it up. All of the cultural rites and rituals associated with this came afterwards. In a pinch, we can (and do) modify or skip the niceties.

      • Pues bien… I had to look that one up. Weird. I guess there are exceptions to every rule. However, there is a difference between feeding dead humans to the vultures and allowing wolves, hyenas, or coyotes to eat them.

        In 18th century Africa (what is now Kenya) they had a huge problem with lions hunting humans. The lions had developed a taste for human flesh after the slave trade had made a habit of abandoning the bodies of newly captured slaves who succumbed to disease or exhaustion along the trail. They eventually hunted down and killed all the man-eaters and the remaining lions learned to fear humans again.

  2. Preserving the corpse forever in a metal coffin is pure human vanity or done out of the fear that you may need it again to go to heaven. Look at the ridiculous communist habit of putting leaders in glass coffins so they can be worshipped. I’m sure Obama thinks he deserves one. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust and the quicker the better. You’ve had your fun and the living need the ground.

  3. It won’t take long before our friends “the tomb raiders” in the South Cemetery would begin to “reclaim” some coffins and ultimately achieve the fleeting goal of true environmental recycling.

    I can only imagine that, at the end, you will have the choice of “New”, “Used”, “Cardboard” or “Ring Pelao” or you may have to find a bachaquero that can find you an alternative one.

    So, taking Ali Primera’s “Techos de Carton” song it would be a kind of irony that the poor will be born, raised and buried in a cardboard box.

  4. What is the problem (law) if the cardboard tears apart and the body is on the soil? As the comment said, it is deep enough no feral animal would smell it.

  5. What percentage of deceased Venezuelans are cremated? In 2014, the cremation rate for the US was 46.7%, nearly twice what it was in 1999. My parents were cremated, with their remains buried in a family plot.

    I agree with other commenters that using cardboard instead of metal isn’t such a bad thing, provided that the burials are deep enough.

  6. Back in the day when we’d go to the Beach at Boca De Uchire we’d go to the cemetery at night and watch for green lit gases escaping from the graves. Turns out that as bodies decompose they emit a gas (I think it was some type of phosphor). We found out some folks were too poor to pay for an urn, so the bodies were buried in the ground with not even a cement liner. It was creepy to watch these gases ignite as they leeched out of the ground. You could see a faint green light, wavy and totally spooky.

    I’m guessing we’ll be seeing that phenomenon again soon, but this time much closer to home.

  7. How is this something new? I “buried” my dad in a cardboard coffin in California in 1994 and he was cremated in it. If I recall, it cost me about $250 or so. I was told by the cremation company that a coffin was required by law and that a cardboard one was the cheapest way to go.

    Of course they tried to up-sell us on a fancy wood and silk lined coffin. My brother I and both agreed that wasting extra money on something that we were going to to burn to ashes the next day was stupid. It would have been an egregious enough waste of money that our dad would have come back from the dead just to dope slap us.

  8. I understand that you can’t cremate a corpse in Venezuela due to law stuff, such as that the dead must receive an autopsy to determine the causes of death, because there have been cases where people have been cremated to hide fishy stuff from the law enforcers, such as the Picure’s case, where he was supossedly cremated.

  9. Chavismo closes the circle of misery in Venezuela. Ali Primera began with the cardboard houses (Las Casas de Cartón) and Maduro completes the saga with the cardboard coffin. I recently read that in Finland they use cardboard cribs for newborns. If Maduro’s government goes that route, then Venezuelans will be born, live and die in a world of cardboard.


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