Science under siege: how Venezuela’s economic crisis is affecting researchers

From Nature:

Federico Parra/AFP/Getty

People line up to buy groceries outside a supermarket in Caracas.

The political and economic crisis in Venezuela continues to worsen. As the price of oil — the country’s major export — has fallen, Venezuela has struggled to pay for imported goods while maintaining socialist economic policies put in place by former president Hugo Chávez.

Claudio Bifano, a chemist at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, continues to teach despite rolling blackouts, food lines and increasing violence. “This is not a good time for the country, but we have to keep working,” he says. “We have to keep living.” 

Bifano, who is also the president of the Latin American Academy of Sciences, spoke to Nature about how Venezuelan scientists are coping with the turmoil. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

There is a serious scarcity of food and medicines, and there is high inflation, so the little that people can buy is extremely expensive. We depend on what the government imports, and as the credit that the government uses for imports is shrinking, it is more difficult to import. This is an economic model that has proven absolutely inefficient.

We’re already seeing a malnutrition problem. Many schools can no longer serve lunches, and the schools that still provide lunch, in a couple of states, as far as I know, serve 40% of what they used to provide. In a few years, we’ll see the consequences of children and youth who were malnourished and had poor health care. Those problems will affect the country’s development.

Universities are becoming degraded because of incomprehensible policies. Of the budget that autonomous universities receive from the state, 95% goes to pay personnel and only 5% is left for infrastructure, graduate programmes, research, outreach and everything else that universities should do. And …

Continue Reading