Dead not spared in­dig­ni­ties of Venezuela’s cri­sis

Gulf Times - - LATIN AMERICA - By Con Alexan­der Martinez, AFP

Wences­lao Al­varez’s body lay rot­ting in his house in Mara­caibo un­til the stench spread up the street. His shamed fam­ily had no money to bury him.

Just days be­fore, an­other fam­ily buried En­der Bra­cho in his own back pa­tio, cover­ing him with a few shov­el­fuls of earth un­til the lo­cal state au­thor­i­ties fi­nally stepped in with a cof­fin and a grave.

In Fe­bru­ary, the corpse of street ven­dor Francisco Rol­los was laid out in front of the city hall in the north­west­ern city of Turen — a silent but force­ful plea for the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to take on his burial.

For Venezuela’s poor, the liv­ing night­mare cre­ated by the coun­try’s eco­nomic cri­sis — which has forced mil­lions to flee — is lin­ger­ing be­yond the grave.

A year be­fore his death, an em­bolism had left the 78-year-old Al­varez in­ca­pac­i­tated.

Chicken pox only made the sit­u­a­tion worse, and went un­treated be­cause of a chronic short­age of medicines.

His agony ended on Oc­to­ber 4 in a poor neigh­bour­hood in the port city of Mara­caibo.

His daugh­ter Lisan­dra asked for help from lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to bury him, but no help came.

“The body was in a state of de­com­po­si­tion and the house was stink­ing. I couldn’t find a way to clean it,” said the 43-year-old laun­dry worker.

Three days later, a neigh­bour­ing mu­nic­i­pal­ity do­nated a cof­fin and a grave.

By that time, the stench com­ing from the house in­fil­trated the homes all along the street.

“We threw three bags of lime in the cof­fin and one more on top to con­tain the smell,” said Lisan­dra.

A year ago, she had to sell the fam­ily re­frig­er­a­tor in order to bury her mother.

Lisan­dra has had more than her share of woe; in 2014, her po­lice of­fi­cer son was shot dead.

Days be­fore Al­varez died, Bra­cho’s fam­ily dug a hole in his back­yard and slipped his body in­side.

He had suc­cumbed the pre­vi­ous day to blood poi­son­ing — a fate which his rel­a­tives said could have been avoided with an­tibi­otics.

Even in life, the 39-year-old ma­son — with his pro­trud­ing ribs and gaunt fa­cial fea­tures — was al­ready look­ing like a corpse.

“Where is the gov­ern­ment to help the poor? What they are do­ing is de­stroy­ing us!” said Bra­cho’s niece, Mi­la­gros.

“Look at the state the coun­try is in. We can get noth­ing.”

Wrapped in a blan­ket, Bra­cho’s body was low­ered into the back­yard pit.

His mother Gla­dys helped cover his re­mains with some earth.

Neigh­bours ob­jected, fear­ing dis­ease could spread if his tem­po­rary grave were to end up be­ing his fi­nal rest­ing place.

Sev­eral hours passed be­fore work­ers from the Zu­lia state gov­ern­ment showed up with a cas­ket and direc­tions to a gravesite.

The eco­nomic cri­sis, cou­pled with state re­pres­sion, is hit­ting or­di­nary Venezue­lans hard, with chronic short­ages of ba­sic goods and in­fla­tion fore­cast to top 1.3mn% this year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

“About 90% of the peo­ple who come to me look for the cheap­est ser­vice they can get,” says fu­neral par­lour owner Luis Mora.

“When they come, they have al­ready spent what lit­tle re­sources they have on care and treat­ments,” he told AFP.

Mora, who owns two Cara­cas fu­neral homes, says costs vary from 8,000 to 25,000 bo­li­vars ($130 — $400), set against a min­i­mum monthly salary of $29.

That price doesn’t in­clude a grave­stone.

Un­der­tak­ers are also look­ing to cut costs.

They no longer buy large stocks of formalde­hyde, used to pre­serve bod­ies, but only ac­quire it “day by day,” said Mora.

Some sit­u­a­tions are even more ex­treme.

In Bra­cho’s neigh­bour­hood, his undig­ni­fied end is far from unique, though many oth­ers are due to chronic vi­o­lence.

“There are many deaths...and there is no way to bury them,” said one of his neigh­bours, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied. “Some­times it takes 48 hours.”

In 2017, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions recorded some 26,000 vi­o­lent deaths in Venezuela.

In many cases, the bod­ies of mur­der vic­tims are not ac­cepted by fu­neral homes be­cause they want to avoid the pos­si­bil­ity of any dis­tur­bances caused by their rel­a­tives, said Mora.

For Al­varez, while the neigh­bour­ing mu­nic­i­pal­ity do­nated the cof­fin and the grave, it did not pro­vide a hearse to trans­port his body.

A neigh­bour took his re­mains to the ceme­tery in a van.

He also brought con­crete slabs and bricks for the grave.

Twelve slabs usu­ally would have been needed to com­plete the job.

But there were only two.

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