|For five months, The New York Times tracked 21 public hospitals in Venezuela. Doctors are seeing record numbers of children with severe malnutrition. Hundreds have died. |
By MERIDITH KOHUT and ISAYEN HERRERA Photographs by MERIDITH KOHUT Dec. 17, 2017
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SAN CASIMIRO, Venezuela — Kenyerber Aquino Merchán was 17 months old when he starved to death.
His father left before dawn to bring him home from the hospital morgue. He carried Kenyerber’s skeletal frame into the kitchen and handed it to a mortuary worker who makes house calls for Venezuelan families with no money for funerals.
Kenyerber’s spine and rib cage protruded as the embalming chemicals were injected. Aunts shooed away curious young cousins, mourners arrived with wildflowers from the hills, and relatives cut out a pair of cardboard wings from one of the empty white ration boxes that families increasingly depend on amid the food shortages and soaring food prices throttling the nation. They gently placed the tiny wings on top of Kenyerber’s coffin to help his soul reach heaven — a tradition when a baby dies in Venezuela.
When Kenyerber’s body was finally ready for viewing, his father, Carlos Aquino, a 37-year-old construction worker, began to weep uncontrollably. “How can this be?” he cried, hugging the coffin and speaking softly, as if to comfort his son in death. “Your papá will never see you again.”
Hunger has stalked Venezuela for years. Now, it is killing the nation’s children at an alarming rate, doctors in the country’s public hospitals say.
Venezuela has been shuddering since its economy began to collapse in 2014. Riots and protests over the lack of affordable food, excruciating long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores have rattled cities, providing a telling, public display of the depths of the crisis.
But deaths from malnutrition have remained a closely guarded secret by the Venezuelan government. In a five-month investigation by The New York Times, doctors at 21 public hospitals in 17 states across the country said that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition — a condition they had rarely encountered before the economic crisis began.
Carlos Aquino weeping over the casket of his son, Kenyerber, who died of heart failure caused by severe malnutrition.
Read more: nytimes.com