Emma Graham-Harrison’s story for The Observer –The Guardian’s Sunday edition – about the spread of hunger in Venezuela this year is one of the most skillful, harrowing, sensitive treatments of an unspeakable subject. Graham-Harrison has a special gift for injecting humanity and warmth into a subject of unparalleled brutality.
Hunger is gnawing at Venezuela, where a government that claims to rule for the poorest has left most of its 31 million people short of food, many desperately so. As night falls over Caracas, and most of the city’s residents lock their doors against its ever more violent streets, Adriana Velásquez gets ready for work, heading out into an uncertain darkness as she has done since hunger forced her into the only job she could find at 14.
She was introduced to her brothel madam by a friend more than two years ago after her mother, a single parent, was fired and the two ran out of food. “It was really hard, but we were going to bed without eating,” said the teenager, whose name has been changed to protect her.
Since then Venezuela’s crisis has deepened, the number of women working at the brothel has doubled, and their ages have dropped. “I was the youngest when I started. Now there are girls who are 12 or 13. Almost all of us are there because of the crisis, because of hunger.”
Strong as her opening story is, her exposition of the economics behind the hunger crisis is just as lucid, cutting through reams of irrelevant detail to get to the nub of the issue.
Venezuela used to produce more than two-thirds of its food, and import the rest, but those proportions are now reversed, with imports making up around 70% of what the country eats.
When crude prices began sliding in 2014, bringing down oil earnings, it left the country short of dollars, and the government decided to focus its income on servicing the national debt rather than importing food.
It’s a stunning piece, beginning to end.