Hunger is very a strong word. It evokes images of famine and destitution in failed nations half a world away. I was hesitant to use it when describing the situation in Venezuela. I had visited that country four times in the last seven years and witnessed its economic decline first hand. During a trip to the industrial city of Barquisimeto in November 2014, I saw for the first time the effects of shortages, with hundreds of people lining up outside of a drugstore to get toilet paper and toothpaste. I knew things had deteriorated further since, with reports of widespread scarcity of food all over the country. But hunger?
I went back to Venezuela last month expecting chaotic crowds and queues everywhere in the city. And that was certainly the case: I saw lines outside supermarkets, drugstores, bakeries, and, tellingly, embassies (people trying to get their paperwork ready to leave the country). But I wasn’t prepared to find out that my friends and colleagues there are struggling to eat properly. They don’t say it openly. After all, Venezuelans are proud people. But after my first interactions with them, I noticed that the number one topic in every conversation was food: when was the last time they ate meat, how long they’ve been without drinking milk, etc.
Admittedly, I didn’t interact much with poor Venezuelans on this trip. My friends and colleagues are middle class, or what is left of them: the minimum wage is just $33 per month, and the salaries of the middle class aren’t much higher than that. Still, I was appalled to realize that if the people I know are struggling to eat properly, the poorest are indeed going hungry.
Today the New York Times has a harrowing account of the depth of hunger in Venezuela. The country that received nearly $1 trillion in oil revenues in the last decade and a half, is now suffering from a humanitarian crisis of significant proportions. Let’s never forget, or let others forget, that this is the end result of yet another failed socialist experiment.