Venezuela: between rats and cockroaches, “to die slowly” in the basement of a ministry

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Daylight never gets in, the air is foul and rats are among the roommates. Fourteen families are “slowly dying” in the bowels of a ministry in Caracas, waiting to be relocated by the Venezuelan government.

“Here we are slowly dying”: like Johan Medina, 31, those who entered here have almost given up hope. “It is unworthy of the human condition”, blows the young man, gripping the wheels of the wheelchair in which he has been nailed since an accident a little over seven years ago.

In the basement and on the ground floor of this building which houses the Ministry for Women and other public bodies, there is no running water or ventilation. To prevent rats from inviting each other, residents are plugging holes in the piping with plastic bottles.

Venezuela: between rats and cockroaches,

“My daughter lost her sense of smell about a year ago,” explains Carla, who asks that her first name be changed so as not to be identified.

“Our room was intended to be a bathroom. Imagine the smell when the pipe is out of order, ”continues Carla, who has lived here for four years. She put up curtains and a mosquito net to prevent “flying cockroaches” from bothering her.

The 24 “refugees” from the ministry arrived here after a tragedy in their personal lives or because they had no other place to go. Their installation was made through Anticorrupción Interpelación Popular Organizada (AIPO), an association resulting from civil society close to the Chavist power.

Venezuela: between rats and cockroaches,

Benefiting from an agreement to use the ministry’s premises free of charge, the AIPO organized meetings there and its members from the provinces sometimes stayed there to sleep.

Over time, some people without a drop-off “started to live here” from 2010, with the authorities’ promise to be relocated, says Norelis, a 40-year-old teacher who lives there with her only daughter. But the conditions began to deteriorate and “now it feels like a cesspool”, she says, while saying that she is waiting to be relocated to a “dignified place”.

“Semi-liberty regime”

Hundreds of Venezuelans are temporarily relocated each year by the government, who in vacant housing, who in a gymnasium, after a natural disaster or a personal tragedy.

They are then placed on the waiting list for the “Mision vivienda” (Housing Mission), a social program run by the government of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro. According to Chavist power, this project has provided more than three million new houses and apartments at very low prices to the most needy. A figure that the opposition questions.

The tenants of the Ministry of Women have not yet benefited from it, although they are on the list.

At the entrance to the building, posters of the late President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) face portraits of his successor Nicolas Maduro. Other posters call for “Vote Chavez!” “Or” to end it! With Donald Trump.

The inhabitants of the ministry are particularly vulnerable to the risks of infection with COVID-19, of which some 88,000 cases have been officially recorded in Venezuela, a country of 30 million inhabitants, for more than 750 deaths linked to the disease. Figures deliberately underestimated, according to the opposition.

But Johan admits the virus is the least of those worries. “Why would I wear a mask?” He says.

Venezuela: between rats and cockroaches,

Despite the trying conditions, the castaways of the ministry all say they fear a future eviction, because the agreement (a commodat) which linked the AIPO association to the Chavist power has expired. And they say they have only one alternative: the street.

“We feel excluded,” says Norelis.

Asked by AFP for an interview, the AIPO did not follow up.

Carlos has lived for ten years in the basements of the ministry and is considered the dean of the “refugees”. He claims that “all” are on the waiting list for the government’s “Housing Mission”.

While waiting for a response, the 49-year-old feels like “in a prison with a day parole regime”. “At 7 p.m., they close (the doors, editor’s note) using a padlock and if you’re outside, you stay outside. And at 6 am, they open, ”he says.

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