Venezuela: Hunger Stalks Presidential Election

Carolina Leal used to support socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and, before that, his predecessor Hugo Chavez.

But now Leal, founder of the ‘Feeding a Dream’ charity, spends her days feeding hungry and sometimes malnourished children in Maracaibo, in Venezuela’s oil-rich state of Zulia. And now she is not so sure.

“I used to defend the revolution,” Leal said. “(But) I got tired of seeing people die of hunger.

Venezuela votes for its next president on July 28 – and the dire straits in which many live will be top of people’s minds. Despite a recent economic recovery that has been much touted by the Maduro government, many families are going hungry and depending on aid to feed themselves.

We’ve saved lives, we’ve seen the eyes of many children shine, which is what is most fulfilling,” said Leal, 47, while holding Juan Camilo, a baby of three months, who is fed by the foundation.

Over the last 10 years, gross domestic product in Venezuela has declined by some 73%. Although Maduro relaxed currency controls and other regulations to boost the economy in 2019, Venezuela suffers the second-highest level of hunger in South America, after Bolivia, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Some 5.1 million people out of close to 30 million are not getting enough to eat, the UN says.

Venezuela’s ministry of information did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The government blames the U.S. sanctions for the country’s economic difficulties.

Each week, from Monday to Friday, “Leal serves 200 lunches from her garage to children in Maracaibo’s western Altos de Milagro Norte neighbourhood, doling out soup, chicken and rice, cereals, and more.”

Each week, the charity, which is funded by donations from advocacy groups, sees at least two cases of “malnourished children,” she said.

Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, hopes to win a third term in July, running against opposition candidate Edmundo Gonzalez, a former diplomat.

But as the election campaign gears up, Leal says she is staying focused on one thing: the children.

We’ve come bearing life, just by giving them hope, a meal that they enjoy and makes them feel valuable,” Leal said.




Reuters/Shakirat Sadiq

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