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The oil-rich South American nation should be prospering. Instead it stands on the edge of an economic and humanitarian abyss. Tue 11 Oct No disrespect is intended: there is simply not enough space in the till for the thick wads of cash.
Nor is it practical to treat the bolivar bills with more care: they are worth barely more than the paper napkins stacked rather more attentively on the shelves. With greater oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela should be at least moderately prosperous. To get a snapshot of the fast-changing — and sometimes tragically surreal — socio-economic landscape, the Guardian travelled miles across the country from the Amazonian border with Brazil to the capital, Caracas.
For most of its history, the frontier town of Santa Elena de Uairen was considered an underdeveloped outpost deprived by distance of the goods and services available on the coast and the interior. Today, however, it is seen as a relatively safe and prosperous sanctuary from the crime and chaos found elsewhere. Thanks to the proximity of Brazil, food is not in short supply and there is a brisk border trade in grain.
It takes just five minutes to cross from the porous border at Pacaraima. Locals say the government in Caracas lifted food import tariffs from Brazil two months ago in a sign both of its desperation to ease shortages and its weakening control over the economy. There is now a steady stream of traders buying sacks of rice, sugar, wheat and spaghetti for resale in Venezuela. People here rely on cash because Santa Elena is so far from the rest of the country that communication networks are too unreliable for debit or credit cards.
That means they probably spend more time and effort counting and carrying money here than anywhere else.