Illustration by Cameron K. Lewis
Valentina Villafane was sitting in her second-grade classroom when the tear gas canister exploded. The principal of her private school outside Barquisimeto, Venezuela, saw it first — an errant volley from a national guardsman that flew between the bars of the school’s gate and rolled to the front door. The principal shouted for the students to run to the back of the building as gas plumed at the entrance.
As Valentina huddled with her classmates, teachers brought jars of vinegar from the cafeteria and showed the children how to apply it to their faces to protect against the gas. They waited for hours, trapped while desperate Barquisimetanos clashed with police outside.
“I was scared and I almost cried,” Valentina recalls in a telephone interview from Venezuela.
The tear gas never reached the students, and the National Guard eventually cleared the streets. The riot erupted because the local markets had run out of food. Some residents had waited in line all day, only to receive nothing.
Now 10, Valentina has not had a brush with danger in the three years since the tear-gas incident. Her school simply closes when the risk of unrest is high. But the food shortages have worsened, and afflict all but the wealthiest Venezuelans. She is used to the sight of bare shelves, of long lines for basic goods, of people scavenging for scraps of food in dumpsters. Even children. Even from middle-class homes like hers.
“I would like to help them, but I can’t,” she says. “I feel sorry for them.”
Valentina has one advantage Venezuelans her age do not. Her father lives in the United…
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