Loss of sight, fainting and death: Craft alcohol kills nine people in Venezuela

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Nine people died after New Year’s Eve in Venezuela. They had all drunk artisanal alcohol which was in fact adulterated. Sixteen other people were hospitalized.

The “Slow Death”, as the inhabitants of Chivacoa, an agricultural village in the center-west of Venezuela, nicknamed the adulterated alcohol which claimed the lives of 9 people during the New Year celebrations. Sixteen other people were hospitalized, confirmed the governor of Yaracuy Julio Leon evoking an “ethyl poisoning of an artisanal product not approved by the health authorities”.

The consumption of such low-cost craft drinks has spread, particularly in working-class neighborhoods in large cities and in villages in the interior of the country affected by an unprecedented economic crisis.

There are still a few drops of the yellowish liquid in bottles perched in the garden of the house… The party with musicians continued late into the night in a house in Pueblo Nuevo. No one suspected then a few hours later, the deaths were going to be linked. “It started on January 1 with the loss of his sight. He was very dizzy,” recalls Joselyn Oropeza, a 27-year-old housewife, of her uncle Oswaldo Oviedo, one of the victims. Oviedo was attending the funeral of another deceased when his symptoms worsened, forcing him to go to a health center.

This man lost his brother, pictured, to adulterated alcohol.

This man lost his brother, pictured, to adulterated alcohol.
Photo: AFP

Ongoing analyzes

The deaths added up throughout the week. “We are going through a painful moment (…), most of the deceased are friends and partly brothers too”, regrets Winder Campos, brother of Manuel Campos, returning from the cemetery where he rests. “We don’t know what they really prepared,” says Oropeza, but “it’s very strange that so many people died in such a short time, three days.

The origin of the alcohol is not known

The origin of the alcohol is not yet known. The police want to find the suppliers, but the person who sold it unchecked and brought it to the party also died of its consumption.” Authorities interviewed relatives and visited the house where the party was held. They took samples of what little alcohol was left for lab analysis.A law enforcement source said the alcohol was adulterated with methanol, a substance that can cause blindness, liver damage and ultimately death.

As the investigation into the “slow death” progresses, traumatized neighbors gather and chat on plastic chairs in the street outside their homes. They talk about the victims. Doris Barico, 56, mourns her older brother Carlos, 57: “He led a very good, very happy life”.

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