#NPRreads: A Sign Of Times? Trinidad Offers Venezuela Toilet Paper For Oil

#NPRreads is a new feature we're testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They'll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we'll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we share with you three longish reads.

From Didrik Schanche, NPR's deputy international editor:

Venezuela might have the world's greatest reserves of oil, but it is facing mounting shortages of food, paper goods and medicines and as well as popular anger and protests. The global collapse of oil prices has left the socialist nation with no money to import basic goods. In a sign of the times, the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago this week offered a trade: toilet paper for oil.

Argentinian journalist Maria Elena Candia says President Nicolas Maduro has few options left to avoid default. In Foreign Policy this week, she analyzes the situation, concluding:

"When Maduro submitted his annual address in front of the National Assembly in January, he recognized that 'Oil will never cost $100 again, but God will provide.' Venezuela will certainly need more than that in order to avoid a default. Adjustment will be slow, gradual, messy, and incomplete. For Maduro, it's a race against the clock with mounting economic and social pressure possibly giving rise to a reform."

From Anders Kelto, of NPR's science desk:

This is a captivating history of OxyContin, the prescription painkiller that came to dominate the legal market and the black market. It shows how a relatively small company was able to produce one of the most successful — and dangerous — drugs in history through a combination of clever advertising tactics, aggressiveness and outright deception.

Here's a bit from the piece:

"A pernicious distinction of the first decade of the 21st century was the rise in painkiller abuse, which ultimately led to a catastrophic increase in addicts, fatal overdoses, and blighted communities. But the story of the painkiller epidemic can really be reduced to the story of one powerful, highly addictive drug and its small but ruthlessly enterprising manufacturer.

"... Whatever the gray areas on OxyContin's many paths to perdition, the statistics on the first decade of this century bear out a staggering epidemic. From 1999 to 2010, the sale of prescription painkillers to pharmacies and doctors' offices quadrupled. In the exact same time span, the number of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers also quadrupled, rising to almost 17,000."

And finally, from Rigoberto Hernandez, an intern at NPR's Code Switch team:

Immigration has been making headlines lately, but what gets lost in the policy are the human stories.

Once in a while we get a story like Julia Arce's. She went from being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico selling funnel cakes in Texas to selling derivatives at Goldman Sachs. Her story is very reminiscent of that of Jose Vargas, the Pulitzer Price-winning reporter who came out as undocumented immigrant in 2011.

Here's an excerpt:

"'I just had this idea in my head that if I can work my way into this wealth and status, then it won't matter that I'm undocumented,' she says. 'I thought if I had a bunch of money I would be accepted.'

...

"She majored in finance. The equations 'made sense to me,' she says. 'There was always a right answer. There wasn't anything ambiguous about it. There was so much ambiguity in my life that I really appreciated that.' Antonia Bernal, a leader of the Hispanic Business Student Association that Arce joined, describes her at the time as vibrant and driven. Arce hadn't seen many Hispanic men wearing business suits before joining the club, and she still does a Hollywood swoon when she describes them. Meetings with successful women were just as important. 'I could be ambitious and go-getter without seeming greedy and aggressive,' she says. 'There are all these amazing jobs, and there's all this money to be made.' When the group handed out awards one April, it named her its Future Millionaire."

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