The Meaning of Misery

The monetary aggregates and statistics mean nothing to Carolina. All she knows is that when the time comes to buy vegetables, the idea of buying a whole kilo of something is an extravagance she can't afford.

Carolina Luna doesn’t know when was the last time she ate chicken, meat, fish or pork. Now she can’t even afford “teticas” (small bags of sugar, milk and oil); the cheapest is Bs.5,000, 0.05 cents of a dollar, which reached Bs. 103,024.27 in the black market (today, who knows how much when you read this?).

Of course, she can’t afford eggs, since a package of 30 already broke past the Bs. 100,000 mark. Those $0.97 might be nothing to you, but it’s an impossible figure for her.

Food prices in Venezuela are absurdly cheap for anyone abroad, but a disaster for locals. The monetary collapse has reduced the true current minimum wage of Bs.456,507 to just about $4.4.

Carolina earns Bs.40,000 cleaning houses when she does find work, perhaps once or twice a month, which means she only has $0.38, from which to eat and feed her eight children, the youngest being only 10 months old.

“If a kilo of tomatoes is Bs 25,000, onions are Bs.40,000 and peppers cost Bs.45,000, it’s impossible with this kind of income.”

According to the Center of Documentation and Social Analysis of the Venezuelan Teacher’s Federation (Cendas-FVM), the price of the Basic Food Basket for October was 5,549,119.73. Some $54.3, too much and nothing at once.

Carolina, 36, would need Bs. 186,470.65 ($1.80) daily to cover her expenses.

She cooks beans as soup and has spent days eating only boiled papaya to trick the belly.

“Obviously, I can’t afford anything. So when I have to season the food, I can only bring a tomato, a pepper and an onion.”

Buhoneros in Petare’s roundabout sell teticas with those three main products and a sprig of coriander at Bs.10,000, or $0.09, though they’re open to bargaining. The food is not fresh, of course.

According to Cendas, out of the 58 products in the food basket, 17 are scarce, and their prices have also increased.

For Carolina, that list is pure abstraction. She only understands that she has no money to buy food. She cooks beans as soup and has spent days eating only boiled papaya to trick the belly.

Since the second week of October, the government has been publishing a list of 50 products that will be regulated, including sugar, a product that has vanished from the shelves and is available only at Bs. 89,000, less than a dollar, about 19% of the $4.4 that the minimum wage is currently worth. A lot more than the $0.38 she earns per month.

“I can’t even feed my little girl” she said, resigned.

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.