Crisis in Venezuela: slowly dying in the basement of a public building

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Homeless, disabled, marginalized people, once promised a home, spend the rest of their days in a state shelter, in a state of putrefaction.

Sunlight does not reach. The air it’s rotten. Cockroaches and rats are undesirable invaders. Twenty four people They live like this, “dying slowly,” on the ground floor of a ministry building in Caracas, a few blocks from the Miraflores presidential palace.

“Here we are slowly dying, it is a mockery for one as a human being,” says Johan Medina, who clings with his thin arms to the wheelchair to which he was confined seven years ago by an accident that caused irreversible damage to the column.

Hundreds of families make life in state-provided shelters throughout Venezuela, victims of the rainy seasons that leave thousands of victims each year, or simply bad luck.

They await help from the socialist government, which boasts of having delivered more than three million houses and apartments with a plan created in 2011 by the late President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) called Mission Housing, a figure questioned by the opposition.

At the entrance of the building where Johan lives, where the Ministry of Women and other state institutions operate, there are portraits of Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. “Vote for Chávez!” or “No more Trump” is read on posters on the walls.

No water service, its inhabitants are especially vulnerable to the covid-19 pandemic, but that is the least concern of Johan, 31 years old.

“Why wear a chinstrap?” He asks angrily, pointing to the stagnant waters and dirt around him.

Wearing a chinstrap is mandatory in this country of 30 million inhabitants, with almost 89,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 759 deaths as of Thursday, according to questioned official figures.

The current tenants began arriving at the state building a decade ago through a Chavista civil organization called Anti-corruption Organized Popular Interpellation (AIPO), which had a loan to use its facilities for free.

This group, with which the AFP tried to communicate without obtaining a response, organized assemblies in the building and those who traveled from the province spent the night on mats. Eventually, “people began to live” there with the promise of being relocated, says Norelis, a 40-year-old teacher who lives there with her only daughter.

Conditions deteriorated and now “it’s like a sewer”, she complains, although she hopes to be moved to “a decent place.”

In the 11-story building, founded in 1956, there was an emblematic bank, intervened in 1994 in the middle of a crisis that caused the closure of numerous financial institutions. Officials come and go today.

“They go to your face every day,” says Johan, who arrived five years ago through a friend who told him that the site could help him with his situation.

On April 14, 2013, a motorcycle without lights ran over him, just hours after he had gone to vote in the first presidential elections won by Maduro.

The loan has already expired and, with no relocations in sight, Johan, Norelis and their colleagues fear being forcibly evicted and left on the street. “We feel marginalized,” says Norelis.

No ventilation, respiratory problems appear. “My daughter completely lost her sense of smell about a year ago,” denounces Carla, as she asked to be called when requesting reservation of identity.

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