Eighty percent of the population lives in poverty, while the cost of food and household goods rises by 50 percent— every month!
It is Easter in Venezuela, but, like the rest of the southern hemisphere, it is autumn there now. There will be the usual passion plays, the Holy Week liturgies and the glory of the Easter Mass. The Mission Helpers will make sure of that.
But nothing else in Venezuela is normal: This failed state is in social and economic chaos, with inflation at an estimated 1,600 percent! Eighty percent of the population lives in poverty, while the cost of food and household goods rises by 50 percent-every month! There are severe shortages of everything-and those who can afford to buy what’s available must wait for hours in long lines. Our Sisters are among those in line.
People stand in line for four, five or more hours every day hoping that there will be food and other basic supplies on the shelves. The frustration frequently erupts into protests and riots, which the the government silences using deadly force.
“The cost of living is so very high,” says Sister Amarilis. “It’s like a roller coaster that always goes up, going higher every day.”
The Venezuelan currency-the Bolivar (B)-fluctuates wildly, but using a February 2018 ratio of 9,000 Bs to 1 U.S. dollar, here is what Venezuelans are paying for basic kitchen staples:
2 lbs. of powdered milk – $100; 2 lbs. of rice – $37; 1 liter of cooking oil – $44; 1 packet of corn flour – $17.
Staggering. But, even more so when one considers the average minimum wage with an added “wage earner food bonus.” It is $88.60 per month. For retired individuals, with “retired food bonus,” it is $38.60 per month.
The stress and costs are felt most starkly among the poor-in areas like Manzanita, where the Mission Helpers have had a mission for many years. On Easter, the Sisters will provide a meal after Mass for the community. It will likely be rice and beans, maybe cornmeal cakes, and it is probably be the only full meal that the people will have all week.
Riots and massive protests due to the lack of affordable food, medicine and services break out regularly with government forces silencing the dissidents using deadly force
There are severe shortages of food and other basic goods. When there is food available, the costs are beyond what many Venezuelans can afford to pay. Two pounds of rice cost the equivalent of $37. The monthly minimum wage is $88.60.
Hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed with children dying of malnutrition and dehydration. Both infant and maternal mortality has increased. Diseases like diphtheria, malaria and measles-previously eradicated-have re-emerged. But the hospitals, too, are suffering from severe shortages of medicine and supplies-even infant formula.
“Whatever we can get, we share,” says Sister Rosa. We are God’s presence among the people. They are not alone-we will not abandon them. We share our food, our medicines, and we share their fears and their pain. We pray together, we cry together. The Mission continues.”