The Americas

Venezuelan children acclimating to the idea of a meager, bankrupt Santa

Santa Claus walks during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, December 11, 2016.

Santa Claus walks during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, December 11, 2016.  (Reuters)

"That bike costs more than what my car cost me a few years ago," complained a man who had taken his two children this week to a toy fair set up by the Venezuelan government in an expropriated mall in downtown Caracas.

He quickly ruled it out, since it would have cost him 19 months of minimum-wage work -- about $796 at the official rate.

Not only are price tags here and across the country a slap on the face of Venezuelans, who brave long lines every day just to cover their most basic necessities. The range of toys offered is also meager and outdated.

The newest Disney toy at the fair was an Elsa doll from the 2014 movie “Frozen,” at 124,590 bolivares ($187) or 4.5-months pay at the minimum-wage rate. There were also a few Barbies and a hand-size Spiderman doll that is supposed to sell for 74,190 bolivares.

Made in China, lower quality toys do abound in the major cities, but those are not quite the ones middle-class Venezuelan kids include in their letter to Santa. They want the cool American toys they see advertised on Disney Junior, Discovery Kids and other cable TV programming.

The situation is forcing many parents to demystify Santa way, way ahead of time. Karla Coronado, mother of 7-year-old Mattias, is one of them.

“In an exploratory conversation I told him that in other countries there were wars and that those children need [all the existing] toys to be able to forget about that,” she told

Mattías had asked Santa for a Yo Kai Watch (he saw in Disney Jr. advertisements), a Dinotruck (he saw it on Discovery Kids) or a Star Wars lightsaber. None of them are available in the country.

Coronado’s sister, who lives abroad, is sending Mattias an iPad – along with a shipment of non-perishable food – but it is not certain it will arrive in time since the heavy load had to be shipped by boat.

“I'll buy him some toy to have that day, but I know it's nothing he asked Santa for," Coronado said.

For girls there is not much to choose from either. The popular Nerf Rebelle guns are absent from Venezuelan shelves, and the ubiquitous Ever After High dolls or the Equestria Girls are nowhere to be found --- not even in the North Pole.

"I explained to my daughter that this year Santa does not have that much money and that probably he will only bring her one gift,” said Leonor Rojas, who is trying to keep alive the magic of Christmas for her 8-year-old daughter.

According to several studies, Christmas this year is just a sad marker for a majority of Venezuelans: recent surveys by consultancy Ecoanalitica and Catholic University Andres Bello showed that approximately 38.5 percent of the population think this Christmas will be worse than last year's, and 35 percent think it will be the worst ever.

Rosa Emilia Ramos is among them. She said she disclosed the Santa facts of life to her two children (ages 9 and 7) after she lost her job two years ago.

"I thought that even though they were very small perhaps it was time to tell them because they would not receive much compared to previous years," Ramos told

She said they still write letters to Santa, but now they ask for things such as good health or a job for their mother, or that their grandmother lives for a lot more years.

"This year they will not receive any presents from me, and they know understand that it is more important that there is food on the table. Unfortunately it is a lesson that living in this country taught them,” said Ramos.

The oil-rich country is suffering the third year of a recession that has sparked product shortages and galloping inflation. With a recent currency depreciation pumping up prices even higher, some parents are simply canceling Christmas.

"Last year I bought everything for my daughter," said Dileida Palacios to Reuters. "This year I had to tell her everything is tough and Santa Claus isn't coming."

Meanwhile, President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government accuses businessmen and rival politicians of seeking to stoke anger and ruin Christmas. With this premise, a few weeks ago he ordered the seizure of nearly 4 million toys from importer Kreisel – toys that ended up being distributed by Socialist Party committees.

The government claimed that the company was hoarding and price gouging, and ordered the arrest of two of its executives.

Kreisel's Sales Manager Giuseppe Sazón and Accounting Manager Osiris Mendoza remain jailed and will likely spend Christmas, New Years and many other holidays behind bars.

María Emilia Jorge M. is a freelancer journalist living in Caracas, Venezuela.