The Rapunzels of Venezuela

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Venezuela; a country full of culture, history, and oil. With greater oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela should have, at most, a moderately prosperous economy. Instead, it has one of the world’s fastest contracting economies, the second highest murder rate, inflation heading towards 1,000%, and shortages of food and medicine that have pushed the poorest members of its 30 million population to the edge of an economic and humanitarian abyss. Venezuela is suffering from one of their worst economic crises in history.

The crowds of hunger and desperation have spread unrest and criminality that threaten the government of Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government has blamed this crisis on the US and right-wing business owners who it accuses of cutting production to sabotage the economy. The Maduro government has responded to the economic crises by printing money, which is fueling inflation. It is estimated that the cost of basic groceries that would feed a family through a week increased by more than 25% between March and April, and now costs 22 times the state minimum salary. The state has tried to ration basic foods and set their prices, but they have simply disappeared from the stores into the black market. Citizens are frequently going without food and almost all supermarkets are constantly under attack by angry, hungry crowds. The government has since declared a state of emergency for the nation, transporting food under armed guard and rationing basic necessities among the people. Since the shared border between Colombia and Venezuela was opened in August, thousands of people from Venezuela are crossing into Colombia every day desperate to find food and medical supplies, which are increasingly harder to find at home.

Out of the national level of desperation, there is a new source of income that has emerged for Venezuelans crossing the border – their hair. Venezuelan women have been selling their hair for valuable Colombian pesos in order to provide for their families and children. With the value of the Colombian peso after exchange favouring local Venezuelans, women desperate for necessities are under pressure to sell their flowing locks to Colombian wig makers. The hair is judged on length and colour, and can bring anywhere between ten to twenty US dollars on the market. Although it may not seem like much, those who purchase the hair can earn up to hundreds of dollars from selling the hair to beauty salons, while the women whose hair has been cut receive a percentage of that payout.

The key problem behind Venezuela’s inability to pay its debts and its shortage of reserves is the value of its currency, the bolivar. The market rate of the bolivar has plummeted dramatically in the last couple of years, making it almost worthless. Because of this, it has made covering payments for agricultural imports increasingly expensive and virtually impossible. By IMF figures, Venezuela has the world’s largest negative growth rate (-8%), and the worst inflation rate (482%). The unemployment rate is 17% but is expected to increase to around 30% in the upcoming years. Even with its glaring food and medicine shortages, the government seems to have put precedence on debt repayment, leaving the “Rapunzels” of Venezuela to sell their hair to survive.

Despite a prioritized focus on debt payments, Venezuela is still struggling to fulfill its obligations. With oil prices decreasing dramatically over the past two years, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, is close to approaching broke. In April, Schlumberger, which provides oil-drilling equipment and technology to various countries, said it would lower its services to Venezuela due to unpaid bills. This drop in drilling capacity has caused Venezuela’s oil production to fall to a 13-year low.

The Venezuelan economy is under intense pressure, and its people are suffering greatly from lack of basic necessities. The crisis has left many of its citizens in search of creative and different ways to earn money. Some have quit their job to work at the border, and others have had to create jobs for themselves. Women of Venezuela have resourcefully found a temporary solution by selling their hair for money. They have made a statement to the world but hopefully, it will be recognized by the Venezuelan government. With the proper aid and the right decisions, Venezuela can once again become a country full of vibrant culture and rich history.

Written By:

Alina Punjani

Works Cited

  1. It’s Created a Staggering Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela. “Venezuela Food Crisis Deepens as Shipments Plummet.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
  2. Borger, Julian. “Venezuela’s Worsening Economic Crisis – the Guardian Briefing.” The Guardian Briefing. Guardian News and Media, 22 June 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
  3. Watts, Jonathan. “Venezuela on the Brink: A Journey through a Country in Crisis.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Oct. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
  4. “Venezuela Women Sell Hair to Buy Food.” The Trend Letter. N.p., 01 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

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