Less than a decade ago, when the streets of Caracas were covered with mangoes during the first days of August, the fruits were so many that they could rot or had to be thrown away. That was before start of hunger: By 2014, the year in which a group of Venezuelan universities began the National Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi) due to the lack of official information, 80% of those surveyed already said that the money was not enough to buy food. Three years later, in 2017, the media reported on dozens of people who had died from eating bitter cassava, who picked or bought at pitiful prices to put something on their stomach. Today there are no fruits left over in Venezuela.
Last year’s mango season was highly anticipated. The latest Encovi report, of March 2020, said that 96% of Venezuelan households were already in poverty and 79% in extreme poverty. And then came the coronavirus. “The pandemic further eroded access to basic necessities,” says Venezuelan photographer Andrea Hernández Briceño. “Venezuelans depend more than ever on mangoes.” In his long walks through Caracas and coastal towns last year, Briceño captured snapshots of cities and towns deserted by gasoline shortages and extreme quarantines, and observed a majority of Venezuelans who eat less than twice a day and go out to look for what nature can offer them.
The lucky ones who can buy sugar, says Hernández Briceño, make jelly with the mangoes. “And those who can buy flour make other desserts. Many eat bananas, plantains and lechoza these days and use herbs to season simple foods like rice, beans or arepas. Sometimes we grow bell peppers in our backyards. ” Mango has always been synonymous with abundance in Venezuela: here you throw a mango seed and you have a tree, says a popular phrase. Today, this fruit has also become a memory and a promise of better times. “The palm / may sustain the world,” wrote the Venezuelan poet Igor Barreto, “but the mango / has accepted / the dark call of good.”
Photographs: Andrea Hernandez Briceño
Text: Eliezer Budasoff
Visual editing: Hector Guerrero
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