“The virus, or the hungry”: in a poor district of Caracas, the untenable containment

«Le virus ou la faim»: dans un quartier pauvre de Caracas, l'intenable confinement

CARACAS | “Go home !” : to Petare, the biggest favela in Venezuela, the military is struggling to enforce the containment. For Gladys, as for many others, being outside is a matter of survival : “One makes war on hunger”.

Gladys Rangel has had enough of playing cops and robbers with the police who are in hot pursuit of the offenders. She removes her mask of protection “home-made”, sits in the middle of the street and made his meager accounts. Not a lot of people don’t want small packets of garlic and lemons, which she sells for the equivalent of 5 cents of a dollar, the unit.

She said that she was forced to break the confinement ordered by the socialist president Nicolas Maduro has about a month to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. “If I do not die of the virus, I would die of hunger”, says Gladys, fatalistic.

Gladys, age 57, is one of the 400 000 inhabitants of Petare, the largest favela of Venezuela, out of the earth there is a fifty years on the hillside in the east of Caracas. An ocean disorderly houses roofed with sheet metal. Here, the water comes sometimes, gas also, and garbage collection is irregular.

Usually, Petare is full of street vendors who, like Gladys, “waging a battle” to keep the head out of the water.

But in these times of pandemic, the excitement has its limits : four hours per day of activity allowed. And then, curtain. At 10 am, the police and the army disembarked to ensure that everyone returns home.

“And then ? We no longer have the right to buy to eat ?”, is unworthy a young girl who was standing in a line to buy meat at the fateful hour.

With 50 cents of a dollar it has earned today, Gladys will be able to buy the mortadella and a few bananas that she will share with her grandson, 9 years old. “Like that, I eat, he eats, and tomorrow I’m going down to go to work. The routine,” she said.

In the beginning of the afternoon, Gladys, and with it a multitude of precarious workers continue to hunt for the customer in the street – despite the containment.

“Keep your distance”

The pandemic of COVID-19 appeared in Venezuela at the worst time. Its economy has halved in six years of recession, hyperinflation is part of the everyday landscape, and shortages of medicines and fuel are recurrent.

To try to slow down the progression of the virus, of which 181 cases were confirmed and nine deaths linked to the disease, the government has suspended the activity of the country, with the exception of critical areas such as health and food.

In Petare, the “quarantine” group has taken many by surprise. “We did not think it was going to be so hard”, breath Nora Santana, manicure of 54 years of age, without the nails to cure for nearly a month.

So, to take full advantage of the four daily hours of licensed activities, the inhabitants of the favela are rushing in the morning in the shops, that with a surgical mask on the face with a simple scarf.

“Keep your distance, brothers !”, launches vigil to customers, clustering in front of the booth Jhony Solano. Toilet paper to canned sardines, you can find everything at Jhony.

And when sounds the police siren that announces the end of the day, Jhony to be in a rush to sell its remaining tomatoes. “We do not work to become rich or millionaires, only to bring back enough food to feed our families,” is justified there.

“The change is radical”, euphémise Cristian Torne, 28 years. Usually rotting with crime and drug trafficking, Petare is now much more quiet.

During the confinement, “at least, there is no crime”, is console-t-it.

Between impunity and weapons available, without much difficulty, Venezuela is in the top of the ranking of the most violent countries in the world. And Petare is one of the city’s most violent to one of the most violent countries.

“I don’t know which is worse. There is no crime, but there is a coronavirus. There are no dealers, but there is nothing to buy to eat” loose-t-it.

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