SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
As Venezuela gets ready to hold its presidential election next Saturday, Nicolas Maduro, the country's authoritarian president, predicts he'll win another six-year term despite chronic food shortages, hyperinflation, widespread unemployment. Even Venezuelans with jobs suffer because their wages are nearly worthless, and many are no longer bothering to even show up to work. Reporter John Otis has more.
JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: At this textile plant in Caracas, workers cut polyester fabric. The pieces are then sewn together to make baseball and soccer jerseys. But the plant is mostly empty. Workers can no longer afford the clothes they make because their wages amount to just $3 per month. Of the 20 people once employed here, six remain. Yajira Delgado worked as a seamstress at the plant for three years. But since December, she's been staying home to spend more time with her two kids.
YAJIRA DELGADO: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Delgado says, "I didn't earn enough to cover bus fare and food, so I quit." An estimated 40 percent of Venezuelan employees have quit or regularly skipped work. Many get by doing odd jobs or receive money sent from relatives overseas. So says Carlos Gonzalez, who heads one of Venezuela's largest business associations.
CARLOS GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Gonzalez says rising absenteeism is due in part to food shortages, which force people to skip work to hunt for groceries. In addition, a lack of tires and spare parts has led to a critical shortage of buses and subway cars.
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PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: President Maduro announced a 95 percent increase to the minimum wage ahead of the election, but it's unlikely to have much effect given that this is the third wage hike this year and prices are rising even faster.
MARIBEL JIMINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: This hyperinflation is demoralizing for people who still have jobs like Yorman Jimenez and his wife Maribel. They live in a mountainside slum and travel every morning to government jobs in downtown Caracas.
YORMAN JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
M. JIMINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Before dawn, they climb aboard a bus that will take them to the metro station. Bus fares have doubled in the past month. That means they will shell out a quarter of their day's wages just to get to their offices. Yorman and Maribel dash through the station. They slip inside the train just before the subway doors close. There's hardly room to breathe. Even so, scores of people try to push their way onboard at each stop.
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OTIS: That's the sound of a metro trying to close the doors, but they can't do it 'cause there's so many people jammed in there, blocking the doors.
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OTIS: After nearly two hours of travel, Maribel exits the subway for her job at the attorney general's office. I follow Yorman to the Transportation Ministry, where he earns about $4 per month as a truck driver. Yorman is 45 minutes late, yet he's still beaten most of his colleagues to work. Others have stopped coming, an option that Yorman contemplates.
Y. JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: "I've thought about quitting my job," Yorman says. "I've also thought about leaving Venezuela for good." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Caracas, Venezuela.
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