This article is the first part of a two-part series on Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis. Click here to read Part 2.
Venezuela is in the midst of an economic collapse. Oil prices have plummeted and the bolivar (Venezuelan currency) has dropped in value compared to the U.S. dollar. The situation is rapidly becoming a humanitarian emergency due to inflation and devaluation of the currency, food shortages, and collapse of the healthcare system. Safety threats and violence have also escalated an already unstable event. While news coverage of these incidents focus on the impact on children or young adults, this crisis has serious implications for older adults who are often vulnerable in the face of disaster.
One of the hallmarks of media coverage are the pictures of long lines at grocery stores and food banks. In response to the food shortage, the Venezuelan government has instituted a rationing system, in which individuals must appear in person to buy food on the day indicated by the last digit on their ID card. For older adults who lose mobility or cannot make it to the grocery store on their designated day, there are few alternative options. Even for individuals who make it to the grocery store, there is often no food available. In a video posted on YouTube, an older woman states that she is hungry and willing to buy anything. She says, “It is sad that at this age [old age] it has come to this”. (English translation)
A writer for Havana Times shared an experience in a Venezuelan grocery store, “I also saw many elderly people waiting for hours to be able to buy something…”. Older adults often support their family by reserving a spot in the long lines which have thousands of people waiting for hours to reach the front. Exposure to the weather alone makes the ordeal of grocery shopping in Venezuela a threat to the health of older adults. In January of 2016, the government decreed that individuals should engage in their own food production, a daunting task for older adults.
Safety has been a pressing concern, especially surrounding grocery stores and food. In August of 2015, Reuters reported the death of an 80-year-old Venezuelan woman in a supermarket, “possibly from trampling”. In addition to riots and stampedes, there are reports of shots fired and frequent assaults in lines at grocery stores. The army and national police have responded by guarding the lines, but it is unclear whether the people are being protected or controlled by security forces.
With recovery a long way off, there have been calls for other nations to come to the aid of Venezuela. Older adults and children can benefit from food and health assistance but President Nicolás Maduro states that the situation is not nearly as bad as portrayed in the media. For instance, Cuban doctors are helping to mitigate the healthcare crisis in Venezuela. The fact is that foreign aid may not even be enough, hence societies should have strong governments with smart fiscal policies to insure safety nets for older individuals.
Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.