From above, the Caracas skyline still hints at the opulence that once characterised oil-rich Venezuela. At ground level, though, there is no hiding today’s reality: people are queueing all night for food and medicine; the inflation rate at over 700 percent is the highest in the world; and murders and kidnappings are spiralling out of control.
Venezuelans who can, are fleeing their country, once a magnet for immigrants.
And with a political confrontation mounting steadily, many warn that a nation that boasts one of the world’s largest oil reserves is on the edge of an abyss.
Political violence against opponents of the populist government of President Nicolas Maduro is intensifying, but it is common crime that is terrifying most Venezuelans, no matter what their beliefs or social class.
Venezuela is now one of world’s most dangerous countries, and Caracas, its capital, the city with one of the highest murder rates in the world, according to a recent study.
but unfortunately, we are all paying a huge price for that.”]
Violent crime is rampant and the police are unable to stop people from looting, or others from killing for a bag of food.
The looting of bakeries, pharmacies and especially supermarkets is spreading through the country. At long queues of people waiting to buy food, the army is deployed to maintain order.
Talk to Al Jazeera travels to the Venezuelan capital, where many airlines are now refusing to fly. Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman speaks to five Venezuelans about life amid the country’s mounting turmoil.
We meet Eliana Castro who makes a living selling coffee to people who queue in the long lines hoping to buy food. She used to have an office job, but quit because she couldn’t feed her children on her salary. Castro supports the family on her own since her husband was shot and killed by criminals who tried to steal his motorcycle.
Edgar Mora, 66, lives a few metres away from the “Cuartel de la Montana”, the military facility where the remains of Hugo Chavez lie. He is a driver at a government office and was a fervent follower of the late leader, and is convinced Chavez would have done things differently than Maduro.
Mariana Reyes is a journalist. She recently married her fiance, who was shot and almost killed when the couple were returning one day from the gym. Now her husband is being treated in Miami, but she goes back and forth to Venezuela because she does not have a green card to remain legally in the United States. Their story is yet another example of why people live in constant fear of violence.
“The situation is critical, life isn’t safe and there isn’t enough food and medicine. Quality of life has deteriorated. The judicial system can’t be relied on either. It’s impossible to live like that … The social fabric has completely deteriorated,” says Reyes.
Dr Yarcelys Alberto works in the paediatric emergency room at the Domingo Luciani Hospital, which used to be one of the best medical centres in Latin America. Now, with many doctors leaving the country, and resources critically low, the hospital is in precarious shape. Alberto witnesses the effects of the current crisis each day – she is getting more cases than ever of undernourishment and severe malnutrition, child abuse and people with firearm injuries.
Mitzy Capriles is the wife of Antonio Ledezma, one of the most high-profile opponents of the Venezuelan government. He was elected Mayor of Caracas, but was arrested 15 months ago. Accused of plotting to overthrow the government, he faces up to 26 years in prison. Ledezma is currently under house arrest because of poor health. We met Capriles in an undisclosed location.
When and how Venezuela can defuse what many describe as a time bomb, is unclear.
Government opponents and even some supporters see a so-called recall referendum to force President Maduro to step down as the only peaceful and constitutional way to avoid bloodshed.
But Maduro, who controls the army, the electoral council and the Supreme Court, is trying to block or at best postpone the referendum, while internationally bartered attempts to arrive at a negotiated alternative remain at an impasse.
And as Venezuela’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis deepens, there is a real fear that if there is no certainty of a democratic way out of the crisis, that time bomb will go off.
You can talk to Al Jazeera too. Join our Twitter conversation as we talk to world leaders and alternative voices shaping our times. You can also share your views and keep up to date with our latest interviews on Facebook.