Tropical fruits provide lifeline amid Venezuela food shortages
By Alexandra Ulmer
LA FRIA, Venezuela - Venezuela's mango season is providing some relief during worsening food shortages that are forcing the poor to skip meals and sparking a rash of lootings.
Facing Soviet-style food lines for increasingly scarce products at supermarkets, more and more people are turning to the South American nation's lush mango, coconut and papaya trees.
While children have always scampered up trees or tossed stones to knock down the juicy yellow mangoes, workers are now joining them during lunch breaks, and parents are making long poles to scoop up the high treats.
"Sometimes when there's nothing in the fridge, I grab two mangoes," said Juany Iznaga, 13, whose family is going without some meals since her mother lost a job at the mayor's office.
"Mangoes help a little; they fill you up," Iznaga added as she shared a slice with her younger sister in the fertile town of La Fria by the Colombian border.
Around the crisis-hit nation of 30 million, people are consuming more starch and less protein. Many say they cannot afford three meals a day.
So mango season is being feted as never before.
"Now we can't throw anything away, not even the skin," said homemaker Iris Garcia, 58, whose son plucks mangoes in the windy Caribbean peninsula of Paraguana.
"THAT'S WHAT WE HAVE"
As the recession reduces employment and inflation crushes spending power, street corners are increasingly brimming with informal vendors selling freshly picked fruit.
Josue Moreno, 19, quit his job four months ago at a bottled water plant where he made $7 a month on the black market rate and now sells coconuts under the leafy shade of a busy street in La Fria.
"This work is easier," said Moreno as he chopped the fruit with a big knife, poked a straw into it and handed it over to a thirsty customer blasting Latin American reggaeton music from his pickup. "Coconuts take care of themselves; you don't have to do anything."
Still, sweet tropical fruits are no substitute for a proper diet, and protests are spreading as delivery trunks become an ever more elusive sight.
For two days, Adrian Vega has been eating crackers topped with mangoes from the tree in his backyard in the jungle state of Bolivar.
"And by the looks of it," the 23-year-old student said, "I'll be eating mangoes for several more days because that's what we have."
Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, German Dam in Ciudad Guayana, and Manuel Hernandez in Maracaibo; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne