Rudy Jose Arzolar Olivero lives in eastern Venezuela and for weeks has been crying inconsolably over the death of one of his 7 children.
“They could have saved him in the hospital, but they didn’t take good care of him. They didn’t listen to us, ”laments the 47-year-old man from his humble home in the Las Delicias de Caicara de Maturín sector, in Monagas state.
On April 7, his son, Manuel Arzolar, 12, died after ingest garbage in a landfill near your house.
As many inhabitants of this sector of the country do, Rudy went with his family to the local dump to collect glass, plastic and iron that they later sell for a few bolívares to survive. There they also look for what to eat.
“Here there is no work,” explains the father of the family in an interview with BBC Mundo.
“After finishing, I came home and my children stayed. Shortly after, my daughter came running yelling: ‘Daddy, I think Manuel is poisoned because he is lying on the ground unable to move,’” he adds.
The case of Manuel Arzolar has shocked all of Venezuela.
“It is more profitable to go to the dump than to work”
His death symbolizes the extreme poverty into which many Venezuelan families have fallen since the beginning of the economic crisis that has plagued the country for a decade.
Between 2013 and 2021, the Venezuelan economy contracted by more than 75% and at least 7 million people emigrated to other countries, a figure that represents a quarter of the total population of the oil nation.
“Before there was poverty, but I never in my life saw people eating from the garbage can“says an elderly neighbor who prefers to remain anonymous.
“People helped each other with agriculture and with a job you could half live. Now, in today’s Venezuela, it is more profitable to go to the dump and sell plastic than to work for a salary of 45 bolivars (US$2) per month,” he adds.
Rudy says he recently tried to look for a job at the mayor’s office, but he turned down when he realized he would earn more picking up at the landfill than the US$2 that they offered him as salary.
While the Venezuelan economy has grown over the past year, the improvement has not reached the poorest sectors of society, according to economists, some of whom predicted that the growth seen in 2022 was not sustainable and the latest figures have given them given the reason
According to the Venezuelan Finance Observatory (OVF), the economic activity of the South American country contracted by 8.3% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2022.
Father and mother
Rudy and his family say they have felt the economic collapse and remember better days.
“I have land. Before I sowed and sometimes we ate with it, but now I have nothing. I don’t have money to buy seeds or fertilizers,” says Rudy.
The former farmer confesses that now it is more difficult for him to support his family, since lately he has acted as “father and mother” for his children, who are between 8 and 24 years old and also eat in the garbage dump where Manuel died.
“My wife, Katiuska, passed away a year and four months ago due to gallbladder complications. Probably He also died because of that dump“he adds with some courage.
Ana García, 24, is Rudy’s stepdaughter and remembers that for a time her mother worked harvesting crops, she had a salary and her family was able to live better.
“But then the situation in the country got worse, he lost his job and we went back to living off the dump.”
After her mother’s death, she has also helped raise her younger siblings.
“The doctors ignored it”
It was Ana who found Manuel convalescing in the garbage dump and took him to the Caicara Hospital, where they did a stomach wash to make him vomit.
The doctors at the Caicara hospital center ordered his transfer to the Manuel Núñez Tovar Hospital in Maturín with a medical order that asked for another “urgent” stomach lavage. He was losing his pulse and would not stop convulsing.
“I asked that they do another wash and they did not, despite the fact that I gave them the order that they had given me. They just put him on a stretcher and then he died four hours later, ”says the young woman.
“My little brother would be alive if he had been treated (good). They didn’t get it fast.”
Rudy also claims that there was medical malpractice.
“My son died after eating garbage from the dump, but also because the doctors ignored him,” he adds.
At the hospital they told him that he died due to food poisoning.
“He liked going to school”
BBC Mundo contacted the Maturín Mayor’s Office and the Manuel Núñez Tovar Hospital to find out if they had investigated the young man’s death, but as of the date of publication, they had not received a response.
Ana remembers her brother as a happy person, wanting to study and get ahead.
“Manuel was in second grade. He liked going to school. He was also happy to go because he played theredespite the fact that sometimes he left without eating ”, he continues.
But today they are about distant memories for his family.
“Most live off the dump”
Yolanda Pérez, vice president of the Cuidarte Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping street children in Venezuela, assures that extreme poverty in the country has increased “enormously” in the last four years, when the foundation was created. .
“Extreme poverty, especially in the Las Delicias de Caicara de Maturín sector, is impressive. The first time I’ve come here and I’ve realized, talking to people, that there is a whole street where most of them live off the dump“, he tells BBC Mundo.
“Families go to the dump to collect plastic or glass, then a truck passes through the sector to collect the material. The truck leaves and then comes back in a fortnight or a month to pay people what they owe. The collectors do not receive the money instantly”.
The report “Regional Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America 2022” published by the UN last year indicates that at least 6.5 million people suffer from hunger in Venezuela.
According to the same source, andl 4.1% of children under 5 years of age in the country suffer from acute malnutrition.
After the death of his son, Rudy has had the support of the Cuidarte Foundation and the local government. The family assures that now his situation is better than it was a few weeks ago.
But they want the change to be lasting so that Manuel’s story does not repeat itself.
“Now we want to support Rudy by getting him a job so that he can support himself and support his children,” explains Yolanda Pérez.
Ana would also like the government to help her father farm his land so that he can “at least” grow food that they can then eat and stop scavenging.
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