Venezuela Crisis: Hope and Survival in a Caracas Barrio - Rolling Stone
×
Home Politics Politics Features

Hope and Survival in Los Pinos

Almost a year after a failed coup — amid unprecedented economic collapse — the residents of a Venezuelan barrio try to rebuild

June 24 2019 Caracas VZLA. Mothers arrive with their children at a weigh in session. An NGO called Alimenta La Solidaridad (or feed the solidarity) gives food and training to soup kitchens for childrens which are run by mothers from the community themselves. Ahead of the opening of such a soup kitchen in los pinos, where the rate of undernourished and food insecure children is high, the NGO sends in volunteer nurses to weigh kids and take bloods tests to get their nutrition levels. For the community, the kitchen will offer free lunch to children under 12 Monday through friday, a miraculous steady meal for families where parents often go without food just to make sure their kids get at least 1 or 2 meals a day. 


Los Pinos  (the Pines) is a sector of one of Caracas’ working class barrios, La Vega, perched high atop the mountains its built into. Named for two pines that shade the stairs that wind up the hills to get there, Los Pinos, a community of about 50 families, has never been an easy place to live, but as the economic and political crisis has torn through Venezuela the nature of life there has been drastically altered. For years, Los Pinos was gripped by the tragic gang violence notorious in Caracas. Few families in the neighborhood haven’t lost someone. Until recently, children couldn’t play much outside, because of the common shoot outs. Over the past few years, Mano Dura policies by police forces, who have been accused of unchecked extrajudicial killing, have have arrested, or killed, many young men from the area. Others were killed in gang violence, or joined the exodus of nearly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled in the last 3 years due to the crisis. Quite suddenly, the violence has dropped. Children play in the alleys and stairs of their community without fear, neighbors chat leaning against walls pockmarked by bullets. But now, and for the last couple of years, due to the crisis, hunger, and total lack of infrastructure, has stepped in to threate
July 3 2019. Caracas, Venezuela.  Aly Mejia at home with her daughter Dayerlin. Aly’s sons are in jail and her childrens fathers are not in the picture. She makes a living selling coffee by the cup out of a thermos in front of a police station in Caracas most nights starting at 3am. Her daughters don’t study, and the family struggles to put food on the table. 

Los Pinos  (the Pines) is a sector of one of Caracas’ working class barrios, La Vega, perched high atop the mountains its built into. Named for two pines that shade the stairs that wind up the hills to get there, Los Pinos, a community of about 50 families, has never been an easy place to live, but as the economic and political crisis has torn through Venezuela the nature of life there has been drastically altered. For years, Los Pinos was gripped by the tragic gang violence notorious in Caracas. Few families in the neighborhood haven’t lost someone. Until recently, children couldn’t play much outside, because of the common shoot outs. Over the past few years, Mano Dura policies by police forces, who have been accused of unchecked extrajudicial killing, have have arrested, or killed, many young men from the area. Others were killed in gang violence, or joined the exodus of nearly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled in the last 3 years due to the crisis. Quite suddenly, the violence has dropped. Children play in the alleys and stairs of their community without fear, neighbors chat leaning against walls pockmarked by bullets. But now, and for the last couple of years, due to the crisis, hunger, and total lack of infrastructure, has stepped in to threaten the community. Mismanagements and corruption have left minimum wage at around $6 per month, and many families in Los Pinos, like so many other barrio communities, must support entire families on one salary. For the generation growing up in the thick of the crisis, their weights have dropped, their older siblings have fled, and their parents spend ever
July 10  2019. Caracas, Venezuela.  Aly’s daughter  and granddaughter share a bowl of plain pasta in bed at home. I’m embarrassed said Aly, its all I have to give them. It was midday day and their first meal. 

Los Pinos  (the Pines) is a sector of one of Caracas’ working class barrios, La Vega, perched high atop the mountains its built into. Named for two pines that shade the stairs that wind up the hills to get there, Los Pinos, a community of about 50 families, has never been an easy place to live, but as the economic and political crisis has torn through Venezuela the nature of life there has been drastically altered. For years, Los Pinos was gripped by the tragic gang violence notorious in Caracas. Few families in the neighborhood haven’t lost someone. Until recently, children couldn’t play much outside, because of the common shoot outs. Over the past few years, Mano Dura policies by police forces, who have been accused of unchecked extrajudicial killing, have have arrested, or killed, many young men from the area. Others were killed in gang violence, or joined the exodus of nearly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled in the last 3 years due to the crisis. Quite suddenly, the violence has dropped. Children play in the alleys and stairs of their community without fear, neighbors chat leaning against walls pockmarked by bullets. But now, and for the last couple of years, due to the crisis, hunger, and total lack of infrastructure, has stepped in to threaten the community. Mismanagements and corruption have left minimum wage at around $6 per month, and many families in Los Pinos, like so many other barrio communities, must support entire families on one salary. For the generation growing up in the thick of the crisis, their weights have dropped, their older siblings have fled, and their parents spend every day desperately trying to get food on the table, and give their kids a shot at an education, future, and even a childhood, amid collapsed water, electr
July 5 2019. Caracas, Venezuela.  The girls of the community prepare for their dance performance to inaugurate their comedor. Most of the dancers will also be eating there every day.  

Los Pinos  (the Pines) is a sector of one of Caracas’ working class barrios, La Vega, perched high atop the mountains its built into. Named for two pines that shade the stairs that wind up the hills to get there, Los Pinos, a community of about 50 families, has never been an easy place to live, but as the economic and political crisis has torn through Venezuela the nature of life there has been drastically altered. For years, Los Pinos was gripped by the tragic gang violence notorious in Caracas. Few families in the neighborhood haven’t lost someone. Until recently, children couldn’t play much outside, because of the common shoot outs. Over the past few years, Mano Dura policies by police forces, who have been accused of unchecked extrajudicial killing, have have arrested, or killed, many young men from the area. Others were killed in gang violence, or joined the exodus of nearly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled in the last 3 years due to the crisis. Quite suddenly, the violence has dropped. Children play in the alleys and stairs of their community without fear, neighbors chat leaning against walls pockmarked by bullets. But now, and for the last couple of years, due to the crisis, hunger, and total lack of infrastructure, has stepped in to threaten the community. Mismanagements and corruption have left minimum wage at around $6 per month, and many families in Los Pinos, like so many other barrio communities, must support entire families on one salary. For the generation growing up in the thick of the crisis, their weights have dropped, their older siblings have fled, and their parents spend every day desperately trying to get food on the table, and give their kids a shot at an education, future, and even a childhood, amid collapsed water, electric and transportation infrast
View Gallery 13 Photos
July 4 2019. Caracas, Venezuela.  Maria Nieves Morales, 79, mother of 12 including Aracelis and Jose, makes coffee in her kitchen. She’s lost many grandchildren to violence, and finds comfort in religion. 

Los Pinos  (the Pines) is a sector of one of Caracas’ working class barrios, La Vega, perched high atop the mountains its built into. Named for two pines that shade the stairs that wind up the hills to get there, Los Pinos, a community of about 50 families, has never been an easy place to live, but as the economic and political crisis has torn through Venezuela the nature of life there has been drastically altered. For years, Los Pinos was gripped by the tragic gang violence notorious in Caracas. Few families in the neighborhood haven’t lost someone. Until recently, children couldn’t play much outside, because of the common shoot outs. Over the past few years, Mano Dura policies by police forces, who have been accused of unchecked extrajudicial killing, have have arrested, or killed, many young men from the area. Others were killed in gang violence, or joined the exodus of nearly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled in the last 3 years due to the crisis. Quite suddenly, the violence has dropped. Children play in the alleys and stairs of their community without fear, neighbors chat leaning against walls pockmarked by bullets. But now, and for the last couple of years, due to the crisis, hunger, and total lack of infrastructure, has stepped in to threaten the community. Mismanagements and corruption have left minimum wage at around $6 per month, and many families in Los Pinos, like so many other barrio communities, must support entire families on one salary. For the generation growing up in the thick of the crisis, their weights have dropped, their older siblings have fled, and their parents spend every day desperately trying to get food on the table, and give their kids a shot at an education, future, and even a childhood, amid collapsed water, electric and

In a working-class barrio high above downtown Caracas is a dusty patch of land, no bigger than a basketball court, with a small stand of bedraggled pine trees. It is the namesake for a neighborhood, Los Pinos. From here you can see the glimmering skyscrapers below, where private supermarkets charge $13 for a box of Cheerios. The minimum wage is $12 a month.

Such inequities have helped spur successive waves of protests in Venezuela, and less than a year ago, the country was a tinderbox. Thousands marched against what was widely seen as the illegitimate re-election of increasingly dictatorial President Nicolas Maduro, successor to socialist revolutionary Hugo Chávez. Last April, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who’d declared himself the legitimate president, called on the armed forces to rise up against Maduro. They didn’t. Since then the situation has settled into an uneasy standstill, with the opposition seemingly out of cards to play, and most Venezuelans too consumed by the daily task of survival to protest.

“They don’t want to hear about politics anymore. They’re totally disillusioned,” says Natalie Keyssar, a photographer who regularly covers civil unrest and inequality in the Americas and spent a month documenting the 50 or so families of Los Pinos in the wake of Guaidó’s failed coup. The community, largely led by women, “is incredibly tightknit,” she says. “People really depend on each other to get by. Venezuela is often described as this clash between political powers and ideologies, but to me these people are the real story.”

Their economy is in an astounding state of collapse. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, the export of which paid for a slate of social programs started by Chávez. But corruption, mismanagement, and plunging oil prices sent the economy into a black hole beginning in 2014, now exacerbated by U.S. sanctions. The currency has lost 99 percent of its value, rupturing any rational relationship between wages and the price of goods. Ten percent of the population has fled. Ninety-four percent live in poverty. Children are dying of malnutrition.

“I used to have dreams, but now everything is for food,” says Idelis Gutierrez, a 22-year-old from Los Pinos who fled to Colombia in July. She joined her husband there, who had been sending her money so she could save $20 to make the journey, but she kept giving it to her parents so the family could eat.

“I remember one time Idelis’ mom came back with a few yucas,” says Keyssar. “And everybody’s trying to play it cool. But there’s this vibrating energy in the room because it’s getting to be two o’clock and nobody in the family’s eaten yet.”

Every day, families are making heroic efforts to survive. Kids are trading shifts at a local factory for food, and parents often go without meals so their children can eat. In Los Pinos, some of the young men started cleaning and clearing the patch of land with the namesake pine trees to make it usable for the neighborhood, which got the attention of Alimenta La Solidaridad, a nonprofit that selects communities to support that are already taking initiative themselves. In July, Alimenta helped the mothers in Los Pinos open their own soup kitchen, guaranteeing their kids at least one nutritious meal a day. “People work really hard to make opportunities for themselves,” says Keyssar. “This is a story of watching people very much take control of their destiny.”

Newswire

Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.