CARACAS – Carmen Hurtado’s hopes rise every time a potential customer approaches the makeshift stand in the Venezuelan capital where she sells puppets, as each sale brings her closer to her dream of having a home of her own, a seemingly impossible goal in an oil-rich nation where someone earning the minimum wage would have to work 4,000 tears to amass enough money to buy a house.
The 45-year-old university lecturer currently resides in the home of a relative in the poor Caracas neighborhood of San Jose, best known for a history of violence chronicled in the songs of a local rap group.
“Less than a dollar,” Hurtado replies with a wry smile when EFE asks how much she makes per day at the university.
In the Sustainable Development Goals, a document establishing targets to be met by 2030, the United Nations defines an income of less than $1.25 a day as extreme poverty.
At this rate, it will take Hurtado millennia to save up the roughly $50,000 she would need to buy a modest apartment in Caracas without reliable water or gas service.
That reality lies behind her decision to embark on a side hustle. Besides making and selling puppets, Hurtado has started offering workshops where she shows kids how to make their own toys.
“But will the moment arrive when I achieve it (a home of her own)? Of course,” she says.
As a pharmacy technician making around $35 a month, Liz Orta, 39, feels “fortunate” because she can afford to put food on the table.
She, her husband and two of their three children live with the husband’s parents.
“I am in a housing association, but I have 20 years there and they still have not given me a response on my residence,” Orta tells EFE.
When she dares to imagine a better future, her thoughts turn to the idea of an apartment in the center of Guarenas, a satellite city near Caracas.
Orta says that she’s never bothered to find out how much a place in Guarenas would cost.
“I don’t have a clue because I know my income isn’t enough and I don’t even think about it,” she says. “Why should I if I can’t afford it?”
A real estate agent who spoke on condition of anonymity told EFE that 1990s-vintage apartments in downtown Guarenas go for $25,000.
Orta would have to work 55 years to afford that.
Ten years ago, the government of late President Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) pointed with pride to data showing that Venezuela’s banks were lending tens of millions of dollars to people to buy houses and cars or start small businesses.
But credit dried up in Venezuela just a few years later as the country’s economy plunged into a crisis marked by hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods.