Venezuela: Politics, Lack of Resources Lead to Coffin Shortage

Image: Relatives of a crime victim carry his coffin during his funeral ceremony in Caracas
File photo of relatives of a crime victim carrying his coffin during his funeral ceremony in Caracas on Nov. 27, 2012.Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters, file

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In Venezuela, politics and the undertaking business have intersected over a shortage of coffins spiked by dwindling access to resources, including brass, varnish and satin.

Because of the shortages, undertakers have been trading coffins or encouraging customers to have cremations so coffins can be “recycled” after use at the wake.

"If you're an undertaker, you have to guarantee funerals happen, even if that means going wherever you have to go to borrow a coffin," Miriam Castro, a funeral home administrator in Caracas, told Reuters.

Crematoriums like the Eastern Cemetery in Caracas have consequently been busier with an increase from eight to 12 daily cremations.

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The scramble for resources has been attributed to the economy’s focus on price and more than decade-old currency controls, which have inhibited manufacturers from importing materials. Additionally, a state steel mill that late President Hugo Chavez nationalized in 2008 has been lagging in brass output.

Demands for coffins have increased because of rising violent crimes that killed at least 11,000 people last year.

President Nicolas Maduro described the scarcity, according to Reuters, as an “economic war” launched by his opposition to upheave him from the office.

Nationwide economic inflation has also spilled over into the funeral business.

Herbert Garcia Plaza, who heads a state agency that helps control inflation, accused one funeral home of “overcharging by 619 percent,” Reuters reported.

Six hours of chapel-rental that he valued at 1,151 bolivars cost him 8,280 bolivars, or around $1,300.

"We have to have some humanity here," Garcia Plaza told Reuters. "They cannot turn this business into something financial."

The resource deficit has also impacted production of other products like church wine and toilet paper.