PHOTOS: Malnourished Venezuelans desperate for foreign aid

Yaneidi Guzman, 38, poses for a picture at her home in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 17, 2019. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

CARACAS, Venezuela — Yaneidi Guzman has lost a third of her weight over the past three years as Venezuela's economic collapse made food unaffordable and she now hopes the opposition will succeed in bringing urgently needed foreign aid to the South American country.

Guzman's clothes hang limply off her gaunt frame. The 38-year-old is one of many Venezuelans suffering from malnutrition as the once-prosperous, oil-rich OPEC nation has seen its economy halve in size over the last five years under President Nicolas Maduro.

The diet of many Venezuelans have become ever more deficient in vitamins and protein, as currency controls restrict food imports and salaries fail to keep pace with an inflation rate that is now above 2 million percent annually.

Growing malnutrition is one of the reasons Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaidó has moved ahead with his plan to bring supplies of food and medicine into Venezuela by land and sea on Saturday, despite resistance from Maduro.

Maduro, who denies there is a humanitarian crisis, has said it is a "show" to undermine him.

On Thursday, crowds cheered as Guaidó led a convoy of opposition lawmakers out of Caracas on a 500-mile journey to the Colombian border, where they hope to receive food and medicine. Guaidó has not provided details on how they would bring in the aid.

Guzman with her husband, Jorge Perez. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

In response, Maduro denounced the aid, saying in televised comments that he was considering closing the border with Colombia and would close the border with Brazil.

Aid has become a proxy war for control of Venezuela, after Guaidó in January invoked a constitutional provision to assume an interim presidency, saying Maduro's reelection last year was fraudulent.

"I hope they let the aid in," said Guzman, who despite holding down two jobs cannot make enough money for the tests, supplements or protein-rich diet that doctors have prescribed her. She and her husband make less than $30 per month and prioritize to feed their three young children.

While there is a lack of reliable government information, almost two-thirds of Venezuelans surveyed in a recent university study, titled "Survey on Life Conditions," said they had lost an average of 24 pounds in body weight in 2017.

Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

On the wall of Guzman’s home in the poor hillside district of Petare in Caracas, hangs a wooden plaque with the psalm "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing."

Yet her fridge is empty except for a few bags of beans.

Sometimes she wakes up not knowing what she will feed her family that day. Mostly they eat rice, lentils and cassava.

While Guzman says she would welcome the aid, she is concerned that a one-off shipment would do little to address Venezuelans' needs. "You don't only eat once," she said.

Some political analysts say Saturday's showdown is less about solving Venezuela's needs and more about testing the military's loyalty towards Maduro, by daring it to turn the aid away.

Maira Guitia prepares plantains at home near San Francisco de Yare, Venezuela, Feb. 20, 2019. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

LENTILS AND PLANTAIN

Some agencies, like the Catholic relief organization Caritas, are already on the ground providing help.

In San Francisco de Yare, a town 45 miles south of Caracas, Maria Guitia's 1-year-old baby's belly is distended and his arms thin. The pair live with Guitia's five siblings and parents in a one-room tin shed with a dirt floor and no running water.

Work is scarce and they live off payments for odd jobs and a monthly government handout of heavily subsidized basic food supplies. They make the most with what little they have, like creating meals with lentils and plantains from the trees in their backyard.

Guitia, 21, said her son had lost weight over the past five months until Caritas gave them some nutritional supplements.

Maria Guitia with her 1-year old, Yeibe Medina. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

The United Nations and the Red Cross have discouraged the politicization of aid.

The U.S., which is pushing Maduro to step down, sent aid for Venezuelans to a collection point in neighboring Colombia via military aircraft, in a show of force.

Guzman dreams of living once more not off foreign aid or government handouts but her own work.

"It's not that I want to be rich, or a millionaire," she said. "But I do want to give my children a good future, to make sure I can take them to the doctors when they get ill ... and that they eat well." (Reuters)

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Shaylim Valderrama in Caracas; writing by Sarah Marsh; editing by Daniel Flynn and Diane Craft)

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Maria Guitia bathes her son Yeibe Medina at home. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
From Yaneidi Guzman's kitchen. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman, 38, in her kitchen at home in Caracas, March 20, 2018. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Stickers depicting former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and President Nicolás Maduro on the door of Maria Guitia's home near San Francisco de Yare. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman works as a street sweeper in Caracas. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Antonia Torres, mother-in-law of Yaneidi Guzman, at home in Caracas. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman with her daughter. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A family photograph hangs in Maria Guitia's home. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yeibe Medina, the 1-year old son of Maria Guitia. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman goes shopping for groceries in Caracas. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Jorge Perez at his mother's home in Caracas. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman shows an old picture of herself on her phone. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman, left, outside her mother-in-law's home in Caracas. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Maria Guitia withher son Yeibe Medina. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman with her mother-in-law in Caracas. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman in her kitchen. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Yaneidi Guzman with her daughters, Esneidy Ramirez, right rear, Steffany Perez, front left, and Fabiana Perez. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Maria Guitia with Yeibe Medina outside their home near San Francisco de Yare. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

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