At one time, Maracaibo had a population of more than 2,000,000 people, and was considered one of the most prosperous cities in Venezuela, formerly the richest country in South America. But after years of socialist rule at the hands of dictator Nicholas Maduro, many residents can’t even afford to give their deceased family members a proper burial.
According to The Associated Press, residents of Maracaibo who don’t have enough money to purchase a funeral casket, which can cost as much as $300, have begun resorting to a range of morbid alternatives, including burying relatives in pieces of wooden furniture or renting caskets from funeral homes.
Since renting a casket can cost as little as $50, many residents find this method of honoring the dead more financially feasible, reports the news agency. During the rental process, the family doesn’t actually bury the body, but instead returns the casket to the funeral home, where it can be rented again, and then sends the body out to be cremated.
While some families do manage to scrape together enough money for a more traditional funeral, they sometimes cannot afford to purchase a headstone in addition to a casket — so they’re unable to find the burial site if they return to visit, according to the news agency.
In September, The Washington Post also reported on some of the ways Maracaibo residents must deal with funeral arrangements, and included the story of a “destitute family” that, because they could not “immediately pay for a funeral,” had their relative tossed into a basement morgue that lacked air conditioning.
As temperatures in this tropical city soared above 90, Vargas’s corpse spent three days on the morgue floor, while his wife, Rossangelys, borrowed money to cover a makeshift coffin and transportation to their home. In the family’s living room, in a lawless part of town pocked with abandoned homes, the family held a grim wake. The narrow, black casket lay across two metal stands. Mourners averted eyes from the deceased’s infested face. Rossangelys tried, and failed, to control the smell by filling gaps in the coffin’s wood with caulking.
They could afford no burial plot. So they dug up the bones of Vargas’s long-dead brother in a local cemetery strewn with broken caskets desecrated by grave robbers.
[The wife] wept by her husband’s resting place. The expelled coffin of her husband’s brother lay in ruins nearby.
The Venezuelan government is currently in turmoil, with National Assembly President Juan Guaido openly challenging the reign of Nicholas Maduro by creating a “parallel government,” according to Fox News. In an effort to support Guaido, President Donald Trump has recognized him as interim president and imposed sanctions on Venezuela to weaken Maduro’s hold on the country, reports Reuters.
Earlier this year, President Trump met with Fabiana Rosales de Guaido, the wife of President Guaido, to deliver a blunt message about the state of affairs in Venezuela.
“Venezuela was a country with tremendous potential and is still a country with tremendous potential, but people are starving, they’re being killed, they’re being beaten,” said Trump, according to Global News. “It is unfathomable to everybody that sees, and everybody that gets reports. We’re getting reports that are horrible.”