Maracaibo is the second-largest city in Venezuela. Its residents face soaring inflation, widespread poverty and shortages. Under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela based its economy on oil exports. But the fall in oil prices led to a crippling economic crisis. Most people can no longer afford to buy food and the fishermen of Lake Maracaibo resort to smuggling to sell their meagre catch in neighbouring Colombia. Our reporters Matthieu Delmas and Chris Huby went to meet Maracaibo’s struggling residents.
Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. But over the past three years, the country has suffered the worst economic crisis in South American history. After 19 years of rule by first Hugo Chavez and then his successor, Nicolas Maduro, the country is on its knees.
Chavez financed his generous social programmes thanks to the windfall from millions of petrodollars. With oil prices constantly rising, the economic cycle remained positive until his death in 2013.
Economy in freefall
The passing of the left-wing leader, followed by the slump in oil prices, marked the end of the Chavez-led economic boom. Today, importers can no longer afford to pay for their orders in dollars, imported food has become an unaffordable luxury, while the IMF forecasts an inflation rate of 13,800% for this year. Only petrol remains affordable. For the price of a pack of flour, drivers can fill up their tank nearly 15,000 times.
Today, Venezuela is on the brink of economic collapse. Only a few upscale residential towers, with barbed wire over the walls, hint at its past glory. Faced with runaway inflation, shortages, hunger and insecurity, two million Venezuelans have already left the country, hoping to build a better future elsewhere.
Venezuelans queue up in Maracaibo in the hope of withdrawing cash. The country's hyperinflation is expected to reach 13,800% this year. © Chris Huby, Agence Le Pictorium
Petrol is the only product that Venezuelans can still afford. © Chris Huby, Agence Le Pictorium
On Lake Maracaibo, fishermen bring in their catch which almost nobody can buy. © Chris Huby, Agence Le Pictorium
The lake also faces an ecological disaster: insufficient maintenance of the oil installations leads to frequent oil spills. © Chris Huby, Agence Le Pictorium