Bloomberg Businessweek

END TIMES ON THE GULF OF NO RETURN

Off the coast of Venezuela, life is cheap, diapers are expensive, and anyone might turn pirate
Gabriel, Venezuelan fisherman turned smuggler, in Cedros, Trinidad

Venezuela and the island of Trinidad are separated by only 10 miles of water and bound together by the most lawless market on Earth today. Playing out at sea and on the coasts, it is a roiling arbitrage—of food, diapers, weapons, drugs, and women—between the desperate and the profit-minded. Government is absent, bandits are everywhere, and participating can cost you your life. But not participating can also mean death, because the official economy of Venezuela is in a state of collapse, and the people are starving.

I’d planned to travel to the fishing villages of Venezuela’s northeast coast, in the state of Sucre, to see how the people there were managing amid violence and deprivation. I settled on the villages along the Gulf of Paria, an inlet of the Caribbean abuzz with stories of smugglers, contraband, and pirates. Clearly there were risks: On both of my previous reporting trips into Venezuela, I’d been detained for “illegal reporting,” first for interviewing an emergency room doctor without government permission and then for talking with mourners at a public cemetery. And that was before the onset of food riots, which began in Sucre in the summer of 2016, and also before fishermen began getting murdered by pirates.

By the time of my trip, in late August, Venezuela had descended so far into chaos that I decided to move my focus across the narrow Gulf of Paria to Trinidad, where, immediately upon arrival in the capital, Port of Spain, I went to the fisheries ministry with a tourist map of the islands. I explained to an official there that I was a reporter

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