Natalie CastañedaComment

Hard times in Venezuela's coastal Sucre state

Natalie CastañedaComment
Hard times in Venezuela's coastal Sucre state

Venezuelans have a saying: "Caracas is Caracas, and the rest is jungle and snakes."

The South American country has few major cities, and when times are hard, the sooty, crowded capital gets the lion's share of resources. This means the collapse of the economy in the rest of the country has been far more savage, and less visible.

In the coastal state of Sucre, the emergency room floods daily and patients help hospital staff members sweep out the muddy water out with brooms.


In this Nov. 3, 2016 photo, the relative of a public hospital patient pushes water out of the emergency room after flooding triggered by heavy rain in Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. The hospital lacks medicine and beds. Hygiene is so bad that some patients who come to the ER end up dying from bacterial infections caught there. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


In cinderblock homes with dirt floors, children and adults sleep through the afternoon. With no hope of buying enough food, it makes most sense to conserve energy. Families fill the empty time talking about things they wish they could afford: pasta, corn flour and sugar. Produce doesn't even make the wish list. Parents say teachers have been stealing the food meant for school lunches.

Fed up with the hunger and seeming indifference to their plight, Sucre residents began looting grocery stores last summer. Now, soldiers with AK-47s guard even the smallest bakeries and bodegas.


In this Nov. 4, 2016 photo, a security officer from the anti-extortion and kidnapping command of the National Guard (CONAS), gives instructions to residents lining up to buy food at a store in downtown Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. CONAS agents provide security for arriving food trucks after the state became the epicenter of food riots that swept through the country over the summer. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


People here once made a bare living in the fishing and sugar industries. When the late President Hugo Chavez promised to lift them up through a socialist revolution, they voted for him three to one. Now, the sugar and fish processing plants work at half capacity on good days. Machinery rusts in the salty breeze, and there's no way to replace broken parts.

Workers are turning to crime, and career criminals are getting more sadistic. This fall, a gang stuffed a victim's severed head into his stomach. Weeks later, members of an elite military unit made nine men kneel in front of their home and shot them dead.

Sucre newspaper reporter Gleen Lugo says he doesn't feel safe publishing stories that could antagonize local officials.

"There's a lot of suffering here no one sees," he said.


In this Oct. 29, 2016 photo, tuna ship mechanic Jose Noriega, 66, stops for a portrait as he works in the state run fishing company Pescalba, in Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. The government nationalized Pescalba in 2010. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 4, 2016 photo, old fish containers are stored at the state-run fishing company Pescalba in Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. On a recent workday, more than half of the company’s fleet bobbed uselessly at the dock, holes gaping where the ships’ decks and sides had rusted open. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 14, 2016 photo, a woman carries a bucket of fish that her fishermen neighbors gave her as a gift as she returns home from work in Punta de Araya, Sucre state, Venezuela. When times are hard, Venezuela's capital city gets the lion's share of resources and the provinces get less than ever. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 8, 2016 photo, a boy finishes his breakfast inside a classroom at the public school in Punta de Araya, Sucre state, Venezuela. The schedules at state schools are determined by whether or not there is food for students, and many times classes are suspended due to lack of drinking water. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 5, 2016 photo, Virginia Vargas rests with her 1-day-old baby in the maternity ward at the public hospital in Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. According to obstetrician Javier Vegas, his hospital lacks basic supplies, so doctors have to wash and reuse materials like sutures, and many new mothers get infections as a result. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

This Nov. 10, 2016 photo shows a televised program airing Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaking, in Punta de Araya, Sucre state, Venezuela. Sucre was once a bastion of support for the ruling socialist party, but that support has eroded as the economy has crumbled. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 5, 2016 photo, men detained for allegedly stealing a motorcycle are escorted by a security officer from the anti-extortion and kidnapping command of the National Guard (CONAS), past a photograph of President Nicolas Maduro, in downtown Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. This fall, a gang left a victim for police to find with his head severed and stuffed into his belly. Weeks later, members of an elite military unit made nine men kneel in front of their home and shot them each in the head. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 6, 2016 photo, a priest walks to the chapel in Punta de Araya, Sucre state, Venezuela. The local church is trying to mediate between rival gangs in the area. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 3, 2016 photo, a worker repairs machinery to get it ready for the next sugar cane harvest at a sugar mill in Cumanacoa, Sucre state, Venezuela. "We are revolutionaries, but in this factory there are no letters of credit, no spare parts for the machines, so we do what we can to keep it going," said welder Jose Armando Bastardo. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 3, 2016 photo, a worker repairs machinery to get it ready for the next sugar cane harvest at a sugar mill in Cumanacoa, Sucre state, Venezuela. The sugar and fish processing plants work at half capacity on good days. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 14, 2016 photo, people look at a shark caught by local fishermen in Punta de Araya, Sucre state, Venezuela. People here once made a bare living in the fishing and sugar industries, but as the state sinks into chaos, people are out of work and turning to crime. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

This Nov. 2, 2016 photo shows cash earned by a street vendor selling "empanadas" on a table in Punta de Araya, Sucre state, Venezuela. In the nation's capital, people bang pots at nightfall to protest the country's economic ruin, doctors shut down hospitals in protest, and students march on government buildings to demand relief. But the collapse has been far more savage in the rest of the country, and far less visible. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

In this Nov. 12, 2016, members of the evangelical church "La Nueva Jerusalen" pray in Cariaco, Sucre state, Venezuela. One civil engineer from Caracas said he moved here two decades ago for a more peaceful life. As the state sinks deeper into chaos, he's thinking of moving back. Caracas is a lifeboat, he said, and the rest of the country is quietly drowning. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


Text from AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Hard times in Venezuela's coastal Sucre state, by Hannah Dreier

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