Restaurants offer full menus. Street markets are packed with fruit. Pickups drive by loaded with pumpkins. In a country where soap is in short supply, a dozen different brands are on sale in a Chinese-owned grocery store, where seven models of flat-screen televisions are also available. Miners dish out fat wads of their gold earnings in cash, which run through a bill-counting machine.
The promise of a different Venezuela — one where there is ample food and work that pays enough — led Yudani González to abandon a program to become a preschool teacher in Ciudad Bolívar, the provincial capital where unemployment is rampant. Instead, she headed to a ramshackle jungle camp where she cooks for miners with one hand, and cares for her two young children with the other.