CAGUA, Venezuela—The sugar-cane fields on the edge of this city have long been a playground for children who run free and munch on the sweet stalks growing under the tropical sun.

They are also a place to chase and catch wild rabbits. For José Gregorio Carrasquel, an 11-year-old who hoped to one day be a chef, that was a way to provide his mother and six siblings with much-needed meat amid widespread hunger here caused by an economic collapse.

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