By Paula Newton and Flora Charner, CNN
July 27, 2016
Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) Within 30 feet of the front door, the wretched smell reaches your nostrils and seizes your stomach. There is no doubt: It’s the smell of decomposing corpses.
Perched on a hill in a leafy Caracas neighborhood, the Bello Monte morgue has become a symbol of the horror and indignity of death in Venezuela.
Video obtained exclusively by CNN shows a chilling scene: Corpses piled up, sometimes unidentified, on top of each other.
One worker, who did not wish to be identified for fear of government reprisal, told CNN that bodies are sometimes left for months. With so many homicide victims arriving everyday, the morgue staff can’t keep up.
Many corpses left unclaimed are tossed in black body bags in what the worker referred to as “the rotten freezer,” a blood-smeared room where bodies can be left for up to three months.
The worker also described autopsies that are completed with improvised tools, and shortages of key supplies such as chemicals, face masks and even gloves. Bodies are left on autopsy tables, sometimes for days.
The chaos is yet another example of societal crumbling in Venezuela, which has been plagued in recent months by unrest, violent crime and shortages of food and electricity.
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On a recent day Luis Alberto Leal emerged from the morgue looking exhausted and overwhelmed. He’d just been inside to identify the body of his 17-year-old brother Jesus, shot four times. He said the smell inside the morgue was absolutely horrible.
Leal spent three days trying to claim his brother’s body from the morgue in what he said was a confusing, expensive process.
“I feel like I have something in my chest that hasn’t allowed me to break down yet, but it’s tough,” he said.
CNN has made repeated attempts to contact government authorities about the conditions inside the morgue but has so far received no response.
According to the National Service for Medicine and Forensic Sciences, which oversees the morgue, a fleet of vans with supplies of medical equipment have since been delivered. Since CNN first reported on the conditions inside the morgue, a fence has been erected, restricting access to the facilities.
Several new studies now confirm Venezuelans’ worst fears about violent crime in their capital. Caracas has become one of the most dangerous places in the world, with a homicide rate as high as ten times that of most American cities. The resulting indignities and the degradation of humanity are something that have historically been reserved for countries ravaged by war.
“In Venezuela we are going through a process of counter-evolution, so what we are really living in Venezuela is a process of incivility in everyday life,” said Professor Roberto Briceno Leon, who has led several research studies on the cause of the staggering crime rate here.
Leon described a culture of impunity in the country, with less than 10% of all homicides leading to arrests.
“Everybody lives in fear in Venezuela — the poor, the middle class, the rich,” he said.