This country has the world’s largest known oil reserves and has been one of the world’s leading exporters of oil. Venezuela was once Latin America’s richest, producing food for export. Just a few years ago this country was famous for having the most lovely women in Latin America, so much money spent on having perfect teeth, plastic surgery and other enhancements, and not to mention natural beauty. Beauty pageants were a favorite national pasttime. Previously an underdeveloped exporter of agricultural commodities such as coffee and cocoa, oil quickly came to dominate exports and government revenues.
TODAY Venezuela has the world’s highest inflation—estimated by the International Monetary Fund to reach 720% this year—making it nearly impossible for families to make ends meet. Since 2013, the economy has shrunk 27%, according to local investment bank Torino Capital; imports of food have plunged 70%.
Hordes of people, many with children in tow, rummage through garbage, an uncommon sight a year ago. People in the countryside pick farms clean at night, stealing everything from fruits hanging on trees to pumpkins on the ground, adding to the misery of farmers hurt by shortages of seed and fertilizer. Looters target food stores. Families padlock their refrigerators.
Three in four Venezuelans said they had lost weight last year, an average of 19 pounds, according to the National Poll of Living Conditions, an annual study by social scientists