CUMANA, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans have a saying: "Caracas is Caracas, and the rest is jungle and snakes."
The South American country has few major cities, and when times are hard, the sooty, crowded capital gets the lion's share of resources. This means the collapse of the economy in the rest of the country has been far more savage, and less visible.
In the coastal state of Sucre, the emergency room floods daily and patients help hospital staff members sweep out the muddy water out with brooms.
In cinderblock homes with dirt floors, children and adults sleep through the afternoon. With no hope of buying enough food, it makes most sense to conserve energy. Families fill the empty time talking about things they wish they could afford: pasta, corn flour and sugar. Produce doesn't even make the wish list. Parents say teachers have been stealing the food meant for school lunches.
Fed up with the hunger and seeming indifference to their plight, Sucre residents began looting grocery stores last summer. Now, soldiers with AK-47s guard even the smallest bakeries and bodegas.
People here once made a bare living in the fishing and sugar industries. When the late President Hugo Chavez promised to lift them up through a socialist revolution, they voted for him three to one. Now, the sugar and fish processing plants work at half capacity on good days. Machinery rusts in the salty breeze, and there's no way to replace broken parts.
Workers are turning to crime, and career criminals are getting more sadistic. This fall, a gang stuffed a victim's severed head into his stomach. Weeks later, members of an elite military unit made nine men kneel in front of their home and shot them dead.
Sucre newspaper reporter Gleen Lugo says he doesn't feel safe publishing stories that could antagonize local officials.
"There's a lot of suffering here no one sees," he said.