Venezuela’s economic crisis takes a toll on cowboys

World Today

In Venezuela’s countryside, farmers fear the current economic crisis may lead to the end of Venezuela’s cowboys. They too are struggling to make ends meet.

CGTN’s Toby Muse reports.

As dawn breaks over Venezuela’s plains, a cowboy sings. For generations, the cowboys of Venezuela have started their days milking their cows with a song.

“It stimulates the animal, it calms her. And it helps the milk come out quicker,” Dagoberto Espinosa, a cowboy, said.

The songs are part of a cowboy culture that has been passed down through generations. Back in 2017, the United Nations recognized these songs cultural importance and warned that they were at risk of dying out.

Now, as Venezuela struggles through an unprecedented economic crisis, the very culture of the cowboy is threatened. Lassoes, horse-riding, some of the skills passed on for generations. A hard life for tough men.

“My grandfather raised me. He taught me this. And I believe that in the countryside a man is made through his work” Richard Colmenares, a cowboy in a farm in San Juan de Los Morros said.

A cowboy’s job is to milk the cows, turn the milk in to cheese and protect the cows. The cowboys also prepare their mules and can spend days out on the plains. They used to all have horses – but recently a horse was stolen from the farm – and it was eaten.

Meantime, cattle production is down in cowboy country.

“This is the worst I’ve seen. I’m 53- years -old and I’ve got more than 20 years here. This is the worst,” Ojanon Lopez Patoja, a cattle-rancher said. The meat produced is too expensive for most Venezuelans. That has led to a collapse in per capita meat consumption, dropping by two thirds over the past two decades.

In the countryside, farmers said they need agrochemicals, fertilizer, and vaccines for cows. As cattle-ranchers struggle, it means the cowboys are a dying breed.

“The cowboys are coming to an end. The wages are too small, the food is too expensive,” Lopez said.

Nationwide, the young are leaving the country in droves – in search of better lives. No country for old men has become a country only for old men.

Cattle rustlers are ever present. The dogs are here to warn of intruders. The ribs show on the skinny mutts. The cowboys said soon these dogs will die. Few scraps are to be had when people struggle for food.

Dagoberto has only been at this farm for six days. He’s bounced from farm to farm as the owners struggle to pay a livable wages. Already, Dagoberto is thinking of a different life beyond the fences of the farm.

“If I could get something I liked, I’d go with you all now,” Espinosa said.

The sun sets over Venezuela’s plains in the twilight of the cowboys.