This post first appeared at Fellowship of the Minds
Hollie McKay reports for FoxNews, Dec. 13, 2018, that as the crisis in Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship deepens with mass hunger, starvation and a lack of medical supplies, there is no comfort even for the dead.
Venezuelan opposition leader Julio Borges, who has been living in exile in the Colombian capital of Bogota for the past nine months, told Fox News: “What is happening is medieval. People are ‘renting’ caskets for a service, but giving them back. The same casket is being used over and over again because people cannot afford to buy one. And then they have to wrap the body in plastic bags for the burial. Others don’t have money for a land plot, so they are burying loved ones in their back garden.”
Other Venezuelans concur. They say the use of “common graves,” along with backyard burials, is becoming standard.
According to Julett Pineda, a Caracas health journalist, funerals in Venezuela cost more than 132 times the average minimum wage earned per month of around six dollars per person – making a final farewell far out of reach for most who would need years of savings to cover costs. Pineda told FoxNews: “Funeral services are too expensive. Coffins are expensive, as well as paying for a place in the cemetery and everything that comes with it: the chapel for the service, the plate. People cannot have a decent funeral.”
Many resort to cremating the dead because cremation costs roughly a third of burial costs. Guillermo Aveledo, a political science professor at the University of Caracas, explained: “In poorer areas, plywood coffins are sometimes being used. Former middle classes can rent a proper coffin for the wake, but prefer cremation, which is cheaper.”
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But even the process of cremation has become problematic because of the acute lack of natural gas to properly incinerate the bodies, despite the fact Venezuela has some of the largest energy reserves in the world. “In some very isolated places, people get used lots for burial, which creates sanitary problems,” Aveledo said.
The shortage of hearses is also an issue. There are fewer and fewer of them available, and the acute fuel shortage – wait times at some gas stations can be as long as 24 hours – makes it harder to keep them running. In some extreme cases, impoverished Venezuelans drag their dead for days in the sweltering sun to reach the Colombian border, where locals assist them with some kind of burial.
Alexander Lopez is a disabled Venezuelan who injured his right leg three years ago in a motorcycle accident. His wounded leg became infected a year later and had to be amputated because of the lack of affordable medicines and medical professionals. Lopez fled Venezuela six months ago to find work to support his son, 19, and daughter, 11, because he could no longer sit by as his family was forced to scour through trash for food. Lopez now sells keychains, incense, and trash bags for a few cents each in Cuenca, Ecaudor.
Two months ago, Lopez’s son was killed in a motorcycle accident. For weeks, the body languished at the morgue as family members were unable to afford the bus fare and boat to collect the remains. Lopez’s former wife and mother of their son, used her law enforcement connections to cobble together some money. But when she got to the morgue, the owners would not release the body – demanding the standard morgue fee plus a bribe, totaling $150, an amount that far surpasses an average month’s earning. “Everyone in Venezuela is so desperate for money, even the morgue will manipulate the people,” Lopez wept, holding up his son’s photograph.
After days, Lopez’ family finally put together enough money to pay the morgue, and a further $88 to pay a local gravedigger, but there were no funds for a service, no memorial plaque or tombstone. Lopez said softly: “Even with all that, “the dead in Venezuela are still worth more than the living. I am worth nothing to that government.”
Lack of medical attention and resources has fueled a spiking death rate in Venezuela. People are dying from the most common and treatable infections and diseases, like the common flu.
Violent crime is also on the rise. Last week, two ex-major league baseball players – free agent Luis Valbuena and former player Jose Castillo – were killed in a crash after their car collided with a rock. Authorities believe the rock may have been deliberately placed in the road, as part of a robbery scheme. A Venezuelan humanitarian worker explained: “People throw rocks in the hope of stopping the car so they can steal it. In this case, it ended horribly… Even if these men had survived, there are not adequate means in the hospital to save them.”
Then there is the looting of cemeteries. Most cemeteries are public municipal lots, but the dearth of public safety exposes the tombs to looting, and mourners and visitors being mugged.
Venezuela has descended into such chaos that no one knows how many people have died because the government doesn’t have the resources to keep track of the dead. So the people are trying to do that. In Caracas, a group of journalists visit the morgues at the end of each week to count the dead, trying to determine how many died from organized crime and from “other” causes like disease or malnutrition.
There’s no indication the situation will improve any time soon. Despite once-brimming oil wealth that had Venezuela as the richest country in Latin America, the Nicolás Maduro-led government – which continues the socialist policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez – has pushed the nation’s economy into dire freefall, upended by massive hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages. More than three million Venezuelans have fled the country since their country began spiraling out of control three years ago.
But the government continues to deny Venezuela is in crisis, and instead blames its economic woes on domestic political opponents and the United States.
Here’s the FoxNews video:
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