Without gas for cre­ma­tion, even dy­ing is a strug­gle in Venezuela

Stabroek News - - REGIONAL NEWS -

CARACAS/MARACAIBO, Venezuela, (Reuters) - An­gel­ica Vera of Venezuela’s western state of Zu­lia planned to cre­mate her fa­ther’s re­mains af­ter he died of can­cer in Novem­ber be­cause hy­per­in­fla­tion has pushed the cost of fu­neral ser­vices be­yond her fi­nan­cial reach.

But the ceme­tery could not of­fer a cre­ma­tion be­cause it had no nat­u­ral gas, which is in ever shorter sup­ply even though the OPEC na­tion holds some of the world’s largest en­ergy re­serves.

Nor could she af­ford to leave her fa­ther’s re­mains in the morgue while wait­ing for gas sup­plies. Each ex­tra day costs more than a month of min­i­mum wage.

She re­sorted to the only avail­able op­tion: leav­ing her fa­ther’s body in an un­marked com­mon grave at the edge of the ceme­tery, an area tra­di­tion­ally re­served for un­claimed bod­ies.

“My fa­ther died and I could not even hold a wake be­cause I had no way of get­ting the money,” said Vera, 27, a cashier. “What us Venezue­lans are liv­ing through is den­i­grat­ing.”

The de­cay of Venezuela’s oil in­dus­try bur­dened cit­i­zens for months with long gaso­line queues and short­ages of cook­ing gas, and has now hit fam­i­lies bid­ding farewell to loved ones.

Venezue­lans have shifted to­ward cre­ma­tions, which cost about a third of buri­als, but grow­ing de­mand has cre­ma­to­ries strug­gling to ob­tain nat­u­ral gas.

Mem­bers of a dozen fam­i­lies said in in­ter­views they now wait as long as 10 days.

So far, com­mon graves have been used pri­mar­ily in Zu­lia, where black­outs and gas short­ages tend to be most ex­treme. But de­cay­ing ser­vices in other states could spread the prac­tice.

PRICES JUMP Short­ages of wood and metal for coffins and ce­ment for graves have com­pli­cated tra­di­tional buri­als. Some fam­i­lies wait for cre­ma­to­ries to ob­tain propane gas. But the wait also boosts costs, with an­nual in­fla­tion near­ing 1 mil­lion per­cent.

“The cost of cre­ma­tion in­creased by 108 per­cent in just one week,” said Ana Her­nan­dez, 36, who is mak­ing ar­range­ments to cre­mate her sis­ter in a ceme­tery in the western city of Bar­quisimeto.

Short­ages of medicine, food and ba­sic goods have been con­stant since the 2014 col­lapse of oil prices bat­tered Venezuela’s so­cial­ist econ­omy. Around 3 mil­lion peo­ple have em­i­grated since 2015, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro blames an “eco­nomic war” led by po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries with Wash­ing­ton’s help. The In­for­ma­tion Min­istry did not im­me­di­ately re­ply to a re­quest for com­ment on cre­ma­tions.

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