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Venezuelans Look For New Ways To Cope Amid Increasingly Dire Economic Issues


Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, is getting increasingly autocratic. That's making life even more difficult for many Venezuelans. NPR's Philip Reeves was in the capital, Caracas, recently and took a drive around town. He sent us this story about the people he met and their efforts to survive the crisis in their country.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: If you live in Caracas, you need to know how to get your mind off things. Francisco is doing that by working out on a traffic circle in the middle of an avenue lined with trees. There are old iron training machines here that anyone can use. Francisco is doing pull-ups on one of these and trying to forget his life for an hour or two...

FRANCISCO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...By focusing on his pecs. Francisco's 19. He asked NPR to withhold his full name because like many Venezuelans these days, he's worried about what might happen if the authorities find out he's spoken with a U.S. news organization. He's studying to become an engineer. Venezuela's economy has collapsed. Jobs are extremely hard to find. Francisco is not sure what he'll end up doing, but he says it'll have nothing to do with politics.

FRANCISCO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I really don't like politics," says Francisco. "It's a very dirty world." Drive around Caracas, and you can see how hard it is for people here to take their minds off things. We pass flowers and candles on the sidewalk, remembering a student killed by Venezuela's security forces during recent protests. Graffiti yells from the walls. Maduro's a killer, says one slogan, referring to the Venezuelan president. Another just says, I'm hungry. There are long lines of people. There's one in front of an ATM. Banks here are severely short of cash thanks to hyperinflation.

ROXANA: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: This machine's only issuing the equivalent of less than a dollar, says Roxana. She, too, asked for her full name to be withheld for safety reasons. She's a medical student who needs cash for her weekly bus pass. Roxana wants to leave Venezuela because she's had enough of...

ROXANA: (Through interpreter) The food shortage, the lack of money, the insecurity.


REEVES: Yet the shelves in this vegetable market are stacked high. There are pumpkins and corn, oranges, mangoes and leeks and much more. Trouble is, says Joel Ferrer, a stall owner, hardly any customers can afford them.

JOEL FERRER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Working-class Venezuelans don't earn enough to eat vegetables, he says. Ferrer says these days he donates lots of his unsold produce to nuns who run an orphanage. He says his clients are mainly middle-class.

FERRER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: And many of them have left the country. Plenty more people are planning to do the same. Not far away, hundreds line up outside the Spanish Consulate hoping to get documents allowing them to move to Spain.

MARIA JOSE: (Through interpreter) Here, there's no future for young people.

REEVES: Maria Jose, who's 25, is in the line. Her clerical job pays the equivalent of $23 a month, yet she says her desire to leave Venezuela isn't really about money.

JOSE: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: She wants to marry and have kids and feels she can't do that here because Venezuela right now is no place for the young and vulnerable. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Caracas.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY SOM SONG, "BAYBEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.