Things in Venezuela are terrible. The country is in the midst of a double-digit depression. Its inflation rate is the highest in the world, and its murder rate is the second highest. Basic goods are scarce: One Venezuelan citizen told the Guardian that she hadn’t found any milk in the past four months.
It’s difficult to appreciate the story these numbers tell abstractly; virtually anything can sound dry once rendered in the language of mathematics. But they’re telling a story of immense human suffering — one the Associated Press’s Hannah Dreier put into perspective in a heartrending series of tweets.
Dreier is based in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. She has turned her Twitter feed into a catalogue of woe, using it to list the indignities and pain she observes during her time in the country. Recently, she’s focused on the country’s health care and child care, explaining the effect that chronic shortages are having on ordinary citizens. It’s terrifying stuff:
Seeing more cases of infanticide in Venezuela as birth control disappears at the same time basics like food and diapers become unaffordable— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) August 7, 2016
More fallout from Venezuela's worsening medical shortages: Schizophrenic daughter kills 89 year-old mom. Her antipsychotics ran out in July— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) August 5, 2016
The one place there's always toilet paper for sale in Caracas: Outside hospitals. Patients have to supply their own pic.twitter.com/gdT7G8JXgf— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) August 8, 2016
These are just three examples; you can find plenty more via Dreier’s feed and her reporting. When I contacted Dreier to ask about her reporting, she told me a story from Monday that hadn’t yet made it into her tweets.
“Another thing we're seeing is parents who just don't feed their babies, then bring them to the ER on death's door,” Dreier writes. “I saw a case like that this morning ... a tiny baby who was way past the point of saving.”
You might wonder how this can happen, especially in a country that has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. The answer, as Venezuelan economist Francisco Toro explains, is the country’s longstanding economic policies.
Former President Hugo Chavez nationalized a series of major industries, installing incompetent bureaucrats to run them, and imposed too many regulations on private industry for it to grow effectively. He also set up a bizarre series of price controls that basically had the effect of removing incentives to import goods from abroad. These policies, together with the recent fall in oil prices, led to a collapsing economy and chronic shortages.
Chavez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, has refused to reconsider Chavez’s basic economic model (called Chavismo), and doubled down on Chavez’s hostility toward political opposition. The result is the disaster Dreier has chronicled — with no end in sight.