As elec­tric­ity fails, des­per­ate Venezue­lans buy spoiled meat

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - As­so­ci­ated Press

MARACAIBO, Venezuela — In a city once called the Saudi Ara­bia of Venezuela for its vast oil wealth, res­i­dents of Maracaibo now line up to buy spoiled meat as re­frig­er­a­tors fail amid nine months of rolling power out­ages that re­cently got worse.

Some peo­ple fall ill eat­ing the rot­ten beef, but at bar­gain prices, it’s the only way they can af­ford pro­tein as the coun­try’s cri­sis hits bot­tom.

“It smells a lit­tle foul, but you rinse it with a lit­tle vine­gar and le­mon,” said Yeudis Luna, a fa­ther of three young boys buy­ing dark­ened cuts at a butcher shop in Venezuela’s sec­ond­largest city.

Venezue­lans are en­dur­ing the worst eco­nomic down­fall in the oil-rich coun­try’s his­tory. Ba­sic ser­vices like run­ning water and elec­tric­ity have be­come lux­u­ries.

So­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro blames the strife on an eco­nomic war waged by the United States and other cap­i­tal­ist pow­ers. The gov­er­nor of Maracaibo’s Zu­lia state, Omar Pri­eto, re­cently said the ram­pant black­outs were be­ing re­paired, but re­lief has yet to come.

The sprawl­ing port city of Maracaibo on the banks of a vast lake once served as a hub of Venezuela’s oil pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­ing roughly half of the na­tion’s crude that was shipped around the world.

But the the in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses have packed up and left as, for the last nine months, Maracaibo’s res­i­dents have en­dured rolling black­outs.

Things turned dire Aug. 10 when a fire de­stroyed a main power line sup­ply­ing the city of 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

Re­frig­er­a­tion units fell idle and meat be­gan turn­ing.

At least four butcher shops have been sell­ing spoiled meat in Las Pul­gas, Maracaibo’s cen­tral mar­ket.

Butcher Jo­hel Pri­eto said the out­age turned an en­tire side of beef rot­ten. He ground up much of it and mixed it with fresh, red meat in an at­tempt to mask the spoilage.

A pun­gent tray of the ground meat and other gray­ing cuts on dis­play one day at his counter col­lected flies — and a steady flow of cus­tomers. Some feed it to their dogs, said Pri­eto, yet oth­ers cook it for their fam­i­lies.

“Of course they eat the meat — thanks to Maduro,” Pri­eto said. “The food of the poor is rot­ten food.”

Across the way in an­other stall, a butcher — shirt­less and smok­ing a cig­a­rette — of­fers up trays of black­ened cuts.

“Peo­ple are buy­ing it,” said Jose Aguirre who was un­load­ing spoiled chicken.

Luna, a 55-year-old park­ing lot watch­man, took a kilo­gram of cuts home know­ing they were bad, but do­ing what he could to make the meat edi­ble.

His wife last year left for Colom­bia, aban­don­ing him and their boys ages 6, 9 and 10. He said she couldn’t stand the hunger any­more. He hasn’t heard from her since.

Pre­par­ing the meat, Luna says he first rinsed it with water and then let it soak overnight in vine­gar. He squeezed two lemons and let it sim­mer with a tomato and a half-onion.

Luna and his boys ate it. “I was afraid that they would get sick be­cause they are small,” he said. “But only the lit­tle one got di­ar­rhea and threw up.”

FER­NANDO LLANO/AP

A cus­tomer smells a piece of spoiled meat at a mar­ket in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

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