In Venezuela, short­ages of the most ba­sic goods are ex­treme out­side of Cara­cas

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY GER­ARDO GUARACHE

All the lady wanted was some chicken. But in short­age-plagued Venezuela, she waited in line five hours, only to go home emp­ty­handed.

“I got here at 5:30 a.m. and came away with noth­ing! It is just not fair that you have to work so hard — and then put up with these lines,” said an ex­as­per­ated Lileana Diaz, a 49-year-old re­cep­tion­ist at a hos­pi­tal emer­gency room.

Venezue­lans have been en­dur­ing short­ages of the most ba­sic goods, such as toi­let pa­per, for more than a year.

In Cara­cas, a cot­tage in­dus­try has emerged with peo­ple who will wait in line for you — at a price.

But things are even worse out­side the cap­i­tal.

The prob­lems are stag­ger­ing here in Va­len­cia, an in­dus­trial city west of the cap­i­tal of this oil-rich coun­try.

Va­len­cia has big fac­to­ries that pro­duce food and other essen­tials. Still, the list of goods in short sup­ply is long. It in­cludes cof­fee, cook­ing oil, corn­meal, soap, de­ter­gent, you name it. Chicken is one of the most cov­eted. Frus­trated shop­pers like Diaz are le­gion.

One tells the story of peo­ple who climbed over a fence to get a good place in line out­side a store, prompt­ing po­lice to in­ter­vene and stop scuf­fles that broke out.

Another lady shop­per shows off a nasty bruise on her right leg, thanks to a fight she got into as she tried to buy dis­pos­able di­a­pers.

In re­cent weeks, the lines of peo­ple wait­ing hope­fully out­side su­per­mar­kets and stores have grown longer in cities away from the coast, such as Mara­caibo, Puerto Or­daz and Cu­mana.

Venezue­lan media have re­ported sit­u­a­tions of nerves run­ning very, very high and shop­pers com­ing close to loot­ing.

At times it has got­ten that bad, in fact. In late Jan­uary, one per­son died and dozens were ar­rested in the chaos of a loot­ing out­break at stores in the town of San Felix in the south­ern state of Bo­li­var.

Pe­dro Palma, an economist, says that his­tor­i­cally gov­ern­ments in Venezuela try to keep Cara­cas bet­ter stocked with essen­tials, to the detri­ment of other cities.

“It is in their in­ter­est to avoid crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions in Cara­cas so as not to see a so­cial ex­plo­sion with truly dra­matic con­se­quences,” Palma told AFP.

‘Lines of hope’

In another su­per­mar­ket in Va­len­cia, a line 50-me­ters long snakes away from the en­trance.

“We call these ‘hold­ing out hope lines,’ be­cause once you get in­side, there is noth­ing on the shelves,” said Os­car Oroste, a 53-year-old chef.

Oroste said that un­til re­cently, peo­ple would wait in line know­ing what was avail­able to buy. “Now, peo­ple are in line but do not even know what they will be sold.”

Venezue­lans go from su­per­mar­ket to su­per­mar­ket, and store to store, clam­or­ing for ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties which have prices reg­u­lated by the left­ist gov­ern­ment.

But some buy just to re­sell at a hand­some profit, and econ­o­mists say that is another source of the short­ages.

Egne Casano, a 28- year- old home­maker, said things are a bit bet­ter in Cara­cas. “I went there not long ago and saw that there is a bet­ter sup­ply,” she said.

No one knows ex­actly how bad the sit­u­a­tion is, in num­bers.

The cen­tral bank has not re­leased fig­ures on short­ages since March 2014. Then, it said 29.4 per­cent of the items the av­er­age house­hold needs is in short sup­ply.

Some pri­vate com­pa­nies warn that the prob­lem — ex­ac­er­bated by lower oil prices, the source of vir­tu­ally all hard cur­rency in Venezuela — has got much worse since then. Venezuela im­ports most of its food and ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties.

‘Lucky day’

In the long lines, peo­ple di­gest their woes with a mix of hu­mor, res­ig­na­tion and anger.

At another su­per­mar­ket in Va­len­cia, a whop­ping 600 peo­ple stood in line un­der a blaz­ing sun to buy pow­dered milk.

Gra­ciela Du­ran, a re­tiree, got a kilo­gram of it af­ter wait­ing for four hours.

“I was lucky to­day, Some­times I come and there is noth­ing,” she said.

“Wait­ing in huge lines is what we do all day, ev­ery day,” said Du­ran, shield­ing her­self from the sun with an um­brella.

A dozen po­lice were sta­tioned at the en­trance of the store and around the park­ing lot through which the line moved.

A truck drove by and the driver shouted out sar­cas­ti­cally: “Home­land, home­land, beloved home­land.”

That comes from a song that late pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez used to sing and is heard of­ten on gov­ern­ment-run media and at of­fi­cial events.

AFP

Peo­ple line up out­side a su­per­mar­ket in Va­len­cia, 180 kilo­me­ters west of Cara­cas, Venezuela on Aug. 11.

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