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Venezuela: Amid Recession, Parents Tell Kids ‘Santa Isn’t Coming’

Venezuela's economic crisis is disrupting Christmas traditions like hosting family dinners, decorating homes and giving presents.

Three years of economic recession and exploding inflation has impacted industries throughout the oil-rich country. With a recent currency depreciation pumping up prices even higher, some parents are simply cancelling Christmas.

"Last year I bought everything for my daughter," said Dileida Palacios, a 40-year-old hairdresser dressed in black to mourn her son, who was killed in crime-rife Venezuela a few weeks ago.

Image: A man is seen inside a store in Caracas
A man is seen inside a store in Caracas, Venezuela, December 1, 2016. Picture taken December 1, 2016. UESLEI MARCELINO / Reuters

"This year I had to tell her everything is tough and Santa Claus isn't coming."

Like Palacios, about 38.5 percent of Venezuelans think this Christmas will be worse than last year's, and 35 percent think it will be the worst ever, according to a poll by consultancy Ecoanalitica and Catholic University's Andres Bello.

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Several days of unrest over a national cash shortage have added to the grim national mood.

Once merrily decorated during the holidays, Caracas looks shabby. Many stores are empty, closed or selling cruelly expensive toys, Christmas trees, and holiday treats like "hallacas," a cornmeal dish wrapped in plantain leaves.

Image: Santa Claus walks during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas
Santa Claus walks during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, December 11, 2016. Picture taken December 11, 2016. UESLEI MARCELINO / Reuters

Eight-year old Helen Ramirez, who lives in Caracas' sprawling Petare slum, asked Santa for food for her family and pink roller skates from the Disney show "I'm Luna."

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But those skates are far out of reach for Ramirez's family at about 400,000 bolivars, roughly $100 at the black market rate and about 14 times the monthly minimum wage.

"This year we didn't decorate the house or anything," said Ramirez's grandmother, Nelys Benavides, during a charity-organised present giveaway in Petare. "We have nothing."

President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government accuses businessmen and rival politicians of seeking to stoke anger and ruin Christmas.

Image: Santa Claus walks past a mural depicting Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas
Santa Claus walks past a mural depicting Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, December 11, 2016. Picture taken December 11, 2016. UESLEI MARCELINO / Reuters

State media has feted the arrival of 200 containers of toys and food in Venezuela's otherwise largely deserted ports, and Maduro lit a cross on Caracas' Avila mountain in November to usher in early holidays.

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His government confiscated 3.8 million toys from importer Kreisel, accusing the company of hoarding and price gouging.

Two Kreisel executives have been jailed, and Socialist Party committees have been distributing the toys to children.

"That's what you call a reinforcement for Father Christmas, right?" the president laughed, stroking his mustache during a recent speech on state TV. "Saint Nicolas without a beard; Saint Nicolas with a mustache!"

Reuters' Eyanir Chinea, Alexandra Ulmer and Lisa Von Ahn contributed to this story.

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