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Things are so bad in Venezuela that people are rationing toothpaste

Things are so bad in Venezuela that people are rationing toothpaste thumbnail

Five years ago, when Hugo Chávez was president and Venezuela was a much different place, Ana Margarita Rangel could still afford to go to the movies and the beach, or to buy the ingredients she needed to bake cakes.

Even three years ago, when the country’s economy was beginning a severe contraction,Rangel earned enough for an occasional treat such as soda or ice cream.

Now she spends everything she earns to fend off hunger. Her shoes are tattered and torn, but she cannot afford new ones. A tube of toothpaste costs half a week’s wages.

“I’ve always loved brushing my teeth before going to sleep. I mean, that’s the rule, right?” said Rangel, who lives in a hillside slum 25 miles west of Caracas, the capital, and works in a cosmetics factory down in the suburban city of Guarenas.

“Now I have to choose,” she said. “So I do it only in the mornings.”

Rangel earns minimum wage, as does 32 percent of Venezuela’s workforce, according to the most recent official numbers available, which were released in 2015. That used to mean something in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves and a socialist government, led by the late Chávez, that presented itself as a champion of Venezuelan workers.

But 700-percent annual inflation and chronic shortages of food and medicine have changed the meaning of Venezuela’s “minimum” in profoundly painful ways.

“I remember the times when, like they say around here, we were millionaires and we didn’t know it,” Rangel said.

Venezuela’s intensifying economic and political crisis has brought thousands of anti-government protesters into the streets over the past three months, and at least 75 people have died in the unrest. A large number of Venezuelans are spending everything they earn to avoid starving.

The minimum wage is enough to buy just one-quarter of the food needed by a family of five in one month, according to calculations by the Center of Documentation and Analysis for Workers, an independent advocacy group.

On July 1, President Nicolás Maduro raised the monthly minimum wage for the third time this year, to about 250,000 “strong bolivars” worth of cash and food stamps — a 20-percent increase.

With Venezuela’s currency rapidly losing value, the new minimum wage is enough for only about six pounds of milk powder or five cartons of eggs. At the country’s informal exchange rate, the raise brings the average worker’s income to roughly $33 per month. That is far below the minimum monthly wage in neighboring Colombia — about $250 — or even Haiti, where it is $135.

The government sets price caps on some basic food items, such as pasta, rice and flour. But those items can usually only be obtained by standing in lines for hours or by signing up to receive a subsidized monthly grocery box from the government with enough to feed a family of five for about a week.

Since 2014, the proportion of Venezuelan families in poverty has soared from 48 percent to 82 percent, according to a study published this year by the country’s leading universities. Fifty-two percent of families live in extreme poverty, according to the survey, and about 31 percent survive on two meals per day at most. Households that depend on breadwinners earning up to twice the minimum wage are in the latter group.

“With Chávez, we were doing much better,” said Romer Sarabia, 44, a security guard at a government health clinic in a town 35 miles south of Caracas. On payday, he said, he used to take his family out for soup. “And I would buy candy for the children.”

Every two weeks, Sarabia goes to an informal market near his home and buys about two pounds of sugar, a pound of milk powder and nine pounds of broken-grain rice that smells of bird food and is typically used as chicken feed. He seasons it with bones or scrap meat.

His three children and wife supplement that with whatever they are able to grow in the nearby fields — mostly plantains, yucca and mangoes — unless neighbors steal the crops.

“What’s going to happen with us if we continue like this for another year?” he said, looking at his wife, who nodded and smiled weakly.

Rangel, the cosmetics factory worker, considers herself lucky, because she pools her income with the earnings of her three sons. But even with four adults making minimum wage, the refrigerator is almost always empty.

The family has eliminated beef, chicken, salad and fruit from its diet. Instead, Rangel and her sons eat rice, beans, yucca, plantains, sardines and sometimes eggs. “We used to be able to have juice with our meals,” Rangel said. “I miss it so much.”

“And chocolate! We can’t even afford to buy a little cup of coffee on our way to work,” she said.

In Rangel’s neighborhood, it is not uncommon to find people like Rainer Figueroa, a 30-year-old with sleepy eyes who has lost a significant amount of weight. Figueroa has shed 24 pounds in the past six months, he said, because his minimum wage is only enough for him to eat small portions of food twice a day. The rest of the groceries are for his wife and three children.

Figueroa said he stopped playing soccer this year. “I can’t afford to burn calories or wear out my sneakers,” he said.

Just three years ago, the family would go to a nearby shopping mall for fast-food meals to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. There would be enough money to pay for bus rides to public parks on the weekends. “It didn’t use to be like this,” he said, with his 7-year-old son standing barefoot beside him.

Figueroa works at a diaper factory that has stopped producing diapers. With shortages of raw materials and imports falling, many Venezuelan plants are operating at half capacity or less, a situation many economists blame on government mismanagement of prices and currency rates.

Since taking office in 2013 after Chávez’s death, Maduro has decreed 16 increases to the minimum wage. But the purchasing power afforded by the raises in pay is wiped out almost as soon as the ink dries on Maduro’s orders.

In the past three years, the country’s economy has contracted by 24.5 percent, including 11 percent in 2016, according to the independent data firm Ecoanalítica.

“Wage raises make it all worse, because if you don’t take productivity into account, you’ll just generate more inflation,” said Asdrúbal Oliveros, director of Ecoanalítica. “This year, people’s purchasing power is headed to go down by 40 percent.”

Every weekday, Rangel wakes at 4 a.m. to take two buses from the slum to the factory. When she comes home around 2 p.m., she doesn’t do much. “I don’t spend my afternoons cooking any more, because I don’t have meat to season or vegetables to cut,” she said.

Gone are the days when her neighbors would get together for barbecues and dance parties.

She said she doesn’t even like meeting with her friends anymore. “We always end up talking about all those things we can’t get any more,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.

She turns on the television instead. “I love watching the Kardashians, because you see how people that have everything live,” she said. “And for a moment you forget what your life is like.”

Wash Post

11 Comments on "Things are so bad in Venezuela that people are rationing toothpaste"

  1. Cloggie on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 10:34 am 

    I’m sorry for the people of Venezuele but for most of the rest of the world things are going far better.

    “Collapse money” gold is imploding:

    From 1230 to 1065 euro in a year.

  2. Hubert on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 10:38 am 

    Venezuela is a good example of what we will all face in the near future. Most of these idiots will not know what will hit them in few years.

  3. Ghung on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 11:03 am 

    Cloggo said; “Collapse money” gold is imploding…”

    Right Cloggie. “Imploding” would be a return to pre-2008 prices.

  4. Sissyfuss on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 11:37 am 

    They were the first to run out of the “good” kind of oil soon to be followed by the rest of the world.

  5. Apneaman on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 3:44 pm 

    Capitalism’s new cheer-leading slogan is…..

    “we don’t suck as bad as socialism….yet!”

    Consumers and Businesses Buckle under their Debts

    Bankruptcies surge as the “credit cycle” exacts its pound of flesh.

    “Commercial Chapter 11 bankruptcies – an effort to restructure the business, rather than liquidating it – jumped 16% year-over-year in June to 581 filings across the US. Total commercial bankruptcies of all types, by large corporations to tiny sole proprietorships, rose 2% year-over-year to 3,385 filings, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. This was up 39% from June 2015 and up 18% from June 2014.”

    Sears, Kmart to close 43 more stores as retail crisis continues

    First Public Pensions, Now Private Pensions Are Falling Apart Too

    Global debt hits $215 trillion in 2016, led by emerging markets: IIF

    “Global debt rose to 325 percent of the world’s gross domestic product in 2016..”

    “Global debt grew by $7.6 trillion in 2016 compared with the prior year. Issuance rose from 320 percent of GDP in 2015.”

  6. Anonymouse on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 9:29 pm 

    Considering that no one, not in Venezuela or washingdum actually needs toothpaste(that causes cancer too and does virtually nothing to keep ones teeth healthy), trashpo could have used something, anything, better than this trashy propaganda.

    Baking soda works far better than TP, costs next to nothing, and doesnt give you cancer.

    Someone should inform trashpo that the masses are not about to take to the streets to demand a uS puppet take over the government over alledged shortages of toilet paper and toothpaste. Maybe the uS should try another CIA backed, military coup instead of complaining about a supposed lack of tooth polish in a country in another continent.

  7. deadlykillerbeaz on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 9:39 pm 

    Must have solved the toilet paper shortage problem.

    What are they doing watching the karcrashians?

  8. Makati1 on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 10:50 pm 

    Ap, baking soda is fine, as you mentioned. If you need a real bacteria killer, gargle with warm salt water. Toothpaste is another for profit money maker only, and, if you read the ingredients label, probably toxic over time.

    “Salt and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are among materials that can be substituted for commercial toothpaste.” (Preppers take note. Both can be stored indefinitely and are cheap. Just keep dry.) WIKI

  9. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 11th Jul 2017 1:10 am 

    Mr. Killer Beaz, they don’t have any toilet
    paper shortage in Venezuela. They just use
    their currency to wipe. (O:

    The lady could brush her teeth using water. Toothpaste helps the cleaning process, but brushing without toothpaste is almost as good.

    She also chose wrong.

    If you could only brush teeth in morning,
    or before bed? Then you don’t choose to
    brush in the morning. The food particles
    need to be removed for overnight…
    the particles are likely to start decay, if left there overnight when saliva flow is lower.

  10. JuanP on Tue, 11th Jul 2017 7:54 am 

    Am I supposed to feel sorry for a stupid, ignorant bitch with three kids that watches the Kardashians instead of going out and growing her own food or doing something else to improve their circumstances? I have never watched the Kardashians, not even once, and I never will! Toothpaste is not necessary and a world without disposable siapers would be a better world. The main problem with this people is their attitude. And this article is a load of crap. I only eat out a frw times a year because my wife wants to; if it was up to me I’d never do it. I eat better and have a better time at home. Venezuela should start planting Moringa trees everywhere. And that guy that lost 24 pounds; is he still clinically obese and maybe in better shape now? We don’t know! When Cuba went through their “Special Period” Cubans lost a lot of weight and their health improved significantly as a consequence! This article is nothing more than spin and imperialist US propaganda.

  11. Richard on Tue, 11th Jul 2017 8:58 am 

    Some of the comments are bit ignorant, people live what is best for them, attitude anyone can have a good one and a bad one.

    Some people may be aren’t able.

    As for toothpaste, so a century ago, what was used then was better than Colgate or what ever brand out there. What the hell, are some people smoking!

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