Venezuela’s misery could worsen with debt default

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LUBER Faneitte has lung cancer but there’s no medicine to treat it. She cannot make ends meet. Crime is rampant in her neighborhood.

And she fears that if Venezuela defaults on its $150 billion debt, which is considered likely, things will get worse.

Faneitte, 56, lives on the 18th story of a decrepit building in downtown Caracas. In her fridge there is only water. Meat is a luxury of the past because of inflation that the IMF projects will hit 2,300 percent in 2018.

“We get by on grain, and that is just when we can get it. We make a kilo last two or three days,” Faneitte told AFP.

She is on disability from her job as a civil servant and survives on a bare pittance, equivalent to $8.70 per month.

She depends on food the government sells once a month at subsidized prices to offset the shortages of just about everything.

Last time she brought home two kilos (4.4 pounds) of beans, a kilo of rice, two liters (quarts) of cooking oil, a kilo of powdered milk and four kilos of flour.

But it went fast. Faneitte lives with a daughter and four grandkids. They all depend on her income.

Cendas, an NGO that monitors the cost of living in this oil-rich but now destitute nation, says that in September it took six times the minimum wage to provide for the average family.

Although she has nothing to cook, Faneitte leaves the gas stove running to save on matches.

The faucet drips, day and night. But she has no money to fix it, and water — like other utilities — is practically given away by the government.

– ‘Hungrier’ and needier –

Politically, the idea of Venezuela declaring default is seen as offering a possible short-term boost for widely unpopular President Nicolas Maduro, who has his eye on elections next year.

As oil prices are down — petroleum accounts for 96 percent of the country’s hard-currency revenue — Venezuela has cut down on imports to save money for debt service, worsening the seemingly endless shortages of basics, even such stuff as soap and toilet paper.

If Maduro declares default, it would free up money to buy imports, do election campaigning and thereby ease the risk of street protests.

But analysts say the long-term impact of defaulting would be disastrous. Venezuela would be mired in lawsuits by creditors and see its assets frozen abroad, said Alejandro Grisanti of the consultancy Ecoanalitica.

Maduro has said he wants to refinance and restructure Venezuela’s debt. But the idea of default is seen as looming.

“I don’t know if that is what Venezuela needs to open its eyes,” said Faneitte. “What I do know is that we are going to go hungrier and be more in need.”

She does not know how things got so bad but she sure is feeling the effects.

– An agonizing choice –

She gave up chemotherapy in January because of the acute shortage of medicine to treat her cancer.

She made that tough decision after struggling for years over whether to buy food or treat her disease.

Doctors say she needs chemo. But instead she prepares a homemade concoction of liqueur, honey and aloe vera.

“I leave it outside for two days, then I take a spoonful in the morning and another at night. I think I breathe much better when I take it,” she said.

Faneitte has been a smoker since age 15. She struggles to breathe when she talks or walks. She has had three heart attacks.

She recalls sarcastically how the late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez once complained that poor people in his country were reduced to eating dog food.

“I want to eat that again,” said Faneitte.

Crime is yet another woe. There is no internet in her neighborhood because thieves have stolen all the cables.

Her apartment building is pocked with bullet holes from shootouts among rival gangs. That violence forced her to move the beds in her apartment away from the windows.

“I am resigned,” she said, “to whatever God wants.

 

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