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Venezuelan fishermen forced to barter sardines for food

Return to barter trade keeps Islas Borrachas fishermen afloat

PUERTO LA CRUZ, Venezuela – At the Islas Borrachas, a Caribbean archipelago in northeastern Venezuela, the fishermen have found a way to survive the worst economic crisis in the oil-rich country's history but not without trouble. 

They spend all night working while facing the risk of losing their boat to pirates at sea. If all goes well, they return to land in the morning to sell their daily catch at crowded seaside markets in Puerto La Cruz, a busy port city in the Anzoategui state.

It's there where they run into another problem: Hyperinflation continues to complicate Venezuelans' daily life. Most fishermen are prepared to not make any money for their night's work, so they are staying away from currency all together

"We will trade for anything: Mango, avocado, plums," said Jose Lemo, a fisherman. "We will take anything."

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The lack of cash means that they can't maintain their boats' engines. Mercedes Bermude, a fisherman, said there are about 100 colleagues with boats in the area, but only five of them have working engines. He said he doesn't know how long they will all be able to stay afloat.

They are making ends meet. At the cash-starved beachside Mercado de Pescado Los Cocos, the fishermen are back to pre-money times with "El Trueque," Spanish for bartering. They leave their homes empty-handed and return with their boats and some rice, pasta or flour.

The market has a local barter exchange that keeps track of prices. As a third party, the barter exchange also keeps track of changes in prices in other markets around the country to make adjustments.

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For now, about 2 pounds of sardines -- the most inexpensive source of protein in the area -- are worth one food item. 

Judy Marquez, a market worker, said she doesn't mind reverting to the rudimentary mechanism of commercial exchange. She said that to make it through the day in Venezuela you have to be willing to adapt and use your ingenuity.  

"We just have to figure it out," Marquez said. "Every day, there is a new problem."