A Very (un)Happy Meal, the Outcome of the Unprecedented Hyperinflation in Venezuela

Under Nicolás Maduro's regime, a meal costs more than minimum wage.
Marcos Ommati/Diálogo | 14 June 2019

A picture posted on Instagram shows several people collecting all the water they possibly can from a leaking sewer pipe system. (Photo: Stephanie Vita Marcelot, Instagram)

In addition to the lack of food, medicine, and other basic necessities, eating out in the country has become something only a select few can afford.

Imagine entering a McDonald’s and seeing that a Happy Meal will cost more than what you make in a month. This was the dire situation that Jesus Yepez experienced at the end of last March. The prices caught him so off guard that he sent a picture of the menu to the U.S. news website, INSIDER.

Happy Meal items can vary a bit, yet usually come with a hamburger, fries, drink, and children’s toy. The photo shows the meal price at 18,500 bolívares — far higher than Venezuela’s minimum wage at the time. Since then, it has been adjusted to 40,000 bolívares soberanos (nearly $4, according to the Currency Converter website, as of May 14, 2019). The amount will certainly have changed by the time this article is published, due to the country’s exorbitant inflation rate.

Trying to be happy

Yepez was buying ice cream for his daughter when he noticed the price and decided to take a picture. “With everything that has happened during this crisis, the only thing we can do is try to be happy,” the architect said, making a reference to the smile displayed on the Happy Meal box. Along with the photo he sent to the website, he also said in his email that the restaurant was practically empty due to the excessively high price of eating out in Venezuela, not just in that McDonald’s, but in any restaurant throughout the country.

Jesus Yepez also posted a photo of a “tree” made up with bolívares and Monopoly money replacing leaves on his Instagram account. “People here like to joke that our money is worth as much as Monopoly money, meaning, absolutely nothing,” he said. The country’s hyperinflation, which has been a constant issue during the regime of Nicolás Maduro has reduced the bolívar’s value to practically zero.

Barters and exchanges

Despite the bolívar losing 99 percent of its value since 2013, when Maduro assumed power, Venezuelans do what they can to survive. According to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian, people are bartering and exchanging goods and services among themselves, as well as currencies other than the bolívar in their financial transactions.

The situation is so dire, that it’s common to find people scavenging for food scraps in trash cans on the streets of Caracas and in other Venezuelan cities, according to social media posts. One picture in an Instagram post by Stephanie Vita Marcelot shows several people collecting all the water they possibly can from a leaking sewer pipe system.

Stephanie Marcelot said that people are getting very desperate since running water was shut off in their homes days ago. “The water seemed clean, even though it was coming out of pipes that feed from the polluted Guaire,” said the Venezuelan woman about the small river that flows through some streets of Caracas. Several social media posts say that those interruptions in service, not just water but also electricity and internet services are constant and more of a rule than the exception in the country, especially with sustenance and medical services in stark decline.

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