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Hungry, without water and medicine, Venezuelans now have a cryptocurrency

Amid horrendous shortages and a deepening financial and economic crisis, the country just got a second official currency.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a press conference to launch to the market a new oil-backed cryptocurrency called "Petro", at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, on February 20, 2018.
CREDIT: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a press conference to launch to the market a new oil-backed cryptocurrency called "Petro", at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, on February 20, 2018. CREDIT: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images.

Venezuela, an oil-rich country in the deep, dark throes of a political, economic, and social crisis, is now facing a new hell: Water shortage in its capital of Caracas.

Amid the country’s fiscal disaster — it is unlikely to make $1.1 billion in payments on two bonds that matured on Wednesday — Reuters reports that 75 percent of Caracas does not have regular access to water.

Children standing in line and waiting for their jugs and buckets to be filled with drinking water in Caracas, Venezuela. (PHOTO CREDIT: Manu Quintero/picture alliance /Getty Images)
Children standing in line and waiting for their jugs and buckets to be filled with drinking water in Caracas, Venezuela. (PHOTO CREDIT: Manu Quintero/picture alliance /Getty Images)

That puts it on par with a community hit by a major natural disaster, like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Only there has been no natural disaster in Caracas. This isn’t happening because of drought, nor lack of functioning plumbing. It’s happening because the cash-strapped government hasn’t maintained the city’s water network, which is meant to serve 3 million.

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The country has been experiencing major unrest for around two years (though protests started in 2014) as President Nicolas Maduro tries to maintain power, having secured a second term in office in a May election that is widely viewed as flawed and fraudulent.

His opponents and those protesting against Maduro accuse him of corruption amid hyperinflation and food shortages.

Life has only gotten worse for Venezuelans since then.

Surgeries are getting delayed and cancelled, with hospitals struggling to meet the hydration and hygiene needs of their patients, with the U.N. saying over 100,000 HIV patients there face major risks because they can’t access crucial medication.

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One U.N. official said that previously eradicated diseases, such as measles and diphtheria, are now “present and on the rise.”

Maduro launched a cryptocurrency in February, and on Tuesday announced that the petro, is to be seen as the country’s official currency alongside the bolivar. Backed by gas, diamonds, gold and five billion barrels of oil, the petro is meant to bolster the Bolivar.

The government even plans on using the petro to pay the salaries of its employees as of August 20.

As ThinkProgress reported in December, when Maduro announced the petro, cutting back on imports and trying to negotiate with their debtors had not worked, so the plan was to peg a currency to raw materials, in hopes that it will retain the buying power to feed hungry Venezuelans.

“On August 20, a new era will begin. In real time, Venezuelans will know the price of the sovereign bolivar and the petro, made public by the central ban,” he said in a statement.

As it stands, anyone who can do so continues to leave not just the capital, but the country, fleeing primarily to nearby Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador.

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According to the United Nations, 2.3 million Venezuelans — 7 percent of the country’s population — have left primarily over food and medical shortages, with over half of those who left being malnourished. To put this into context, so far in the course of Syria’s seven-year brutal civil war, 5.6 million fled that country.

Venezuelans are also applying for asylum to the United States in record numbers. As the Associated Press reported, however, Venezuelans applying for non-immigrant visas are having a tough time with, with rejections of those applications tripling from 2016 to 2017.

At the U.N. Security Council, Russia, China, and other member countries have boycotted meetings on Venezuela in the past. With sanctions levied and threats of military action considered, the Trump administration is left to call for Maduro “to go.”

For now, the United States is giving neighboring Columbia $9 million to help meet the needs of Venezuelans arriving there on a daily basis.