Women In Venezuela Struggle To Cope Amid Economic Misery An emaciated mother breastfeeds her toddler past weaning time, for lack of food. Women bear the brunt of coping with the economic misery after a decade and a half of socialist rule.
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Women In Venezuela Struggle To Cope Amid Economic Misery

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Women In Venezuela Struggle To Cope Amid Economic Misery

Women In Venezuela Struggle To Cope Amid Economic Misery

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Soap, milk, rice, flour - the list of staples lacking in Venezuela is long. The government blames low oil prices and U.S. economic warfare. Critics blame 16 years of failed socialism. In Caracas, NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro found that women are bearing the brunt of the hardship. Those she interviewed wouldn't give their last names for fear of reprisal.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The line outside the Unicasa supermarket in western Caracas is hundreds of people long. Xiomara, a smiling Afro-Venezuelan grandmother who's sitting on a plastic stool, says she's come prepared for the wait.

XIOMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Mamita," she tells me, "you have to bring your breakfast, your chair and an umbrella for the sun because we never know how long we have to wait." Most of the people waiting in the line are women. And some say they've been here since the middle of the night in the hopes of getting access to a shipment of butter and rice.

XIOMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The situation has us housewives juggling" - hacer malabares in Spanish - "to make ends meet," Xiomara tells me. To nods from the other women around her, she talks about how she fashions funny faces out of a traditional tuber eaten in Latin America called yucca for her grandchildren. It's to entice them to eat the same thing every night. Meat, vegetables are unaffordable or scarce.

XIOMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Xiomara tells me the crisis is much worse now. "And it's affecting all of us, but especially we women who have to feed our children," she says.

Outside a pharmacy in another part of town, there's another long line. I meet a mother of four, Solimar. When I ask her what the situation is like right now in Venezuela, she starts to cry.

SOLIMAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Every day, I have to hit the streets to find what is needed," she says.

SOLIMAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She has some land, so she plants manioc and other staples. She says she's taken to making her own deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo.

SOLIMAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like many women, she says, she gets the recipes online. Her deodorant is made with bicarbonate of soda and some essential oils.

SOLIMAR: (Speaking Spanish, laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her mood improves and she jokes, "it's ecological, and you can raise your hands in the air and smell good."

I head high into the hills above Caracas to the poor barrio of Antimano, once a bedrock of support for former President Hugo Chavez and his socialist revolution. The first thing you notice about Andrys - she's a willowy mother of three children - is how emaciated she is. She tells me she's lost over 30 pounds recently. She weighs 90 pounds right now.

ANDRYS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "You can't get milk," she tells me, so she nursed her other child until she was 4. And she's nursing her 1-and-a-half-year-old continuously as well to give her the nutrients she needs, but it's wasting her away. Her malabares, or juggling to make ends meet, are many. Take disposable diapers. They're almost impossible to find. She shows me how she washes and reuses the outside of an old disposable diaper as a cover, and then she lines it with a dish rag.

ANDRYS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she used to use a plastic bag to stop the leaking, but it would burn her daughter's little legs. She says her husband works, so she's left to figure things out at home. As we're talking, her older daughter arrives with a bag of bread for lunch. The 10-year-old-girl has news. There might be soap in the shops in town later today, she tells her mom.

Andrys tells me she hasn't seen soap in a long time. They've been using jabon de tierra, or soap made from clay, to bathe. The children crowd around and ask for a piece of bread. Andrys hands it out to her three children and watches them wolf it down, but she eats nothing herself. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Caracas.

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