Venezuela: Diary of an Ordinary Wednesday


Shoppers waiting to get into a supermarket.  Buying basic products can  be an  all-day affair in Caracas.
Shoppers waiting to get into a supermarket. Buying basic products can be an all-day affair in Caracas.

HAVANA TIMES — It is not Ash Wednesday. Nor are we in the Wasteland, even though it feels like it. April is well behind us, far enough away at this point to consider it the most terrible month of the year…particularly when those ahead of us look even uglier.

It is on Wednesday when I can supposedly buy basic products using my ID card.

However, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a number of basic products for some time now. Washing soap (I’ve had better luck with detergent), bath soap, sanitary towels, shampoo, rice, coffee…I am not very demanding, I only consider a handful of things essential, and I prefer not to spend money on things I am not absolutely sure I’m going to need. I’m sure that, for many other people out there, the list of “missing” products is far longer than mine.

The thing is, to buy most of these basic products, one has to wait for the day of the week when you are “authorized” to purchase them. This is determined by the number on your ID card. In my case, as I managed to get my papers in order at the beginning of the year, I can do the groceries on Wednesday.

I head out at around nine in the morning. I refuse to stand in line in the early morning at the market two blocks away. After many hours of waiting under the hot sun and being mistreated by the custodians and employees, people sometimes get luck and find that, on the day they are “allowed” to buy things, the market has been stocked with milk, oil, spaghetti or macaroni. It’s been a while since I last saw chicken or meat for sale.

While waiting for the bus, a young woman carrying a heavy bag of groceries asks me how to get back home. She’s come from far, because, at the market closest to her, the managers make people buy more than a thousand Bolivars in products before granting them the “right” to buy a bag of milk.

We catch the same van. The fare is 15 Bolivars on week days and 17 on weekends. Despite this, most of these private means of transportation are in dreadful condition. A nauseating smell seeps into my nose once inside. It smells of Sulphur. The people complain to the driver for having taken the van out in such condition (some problem with the fuel, the oil and who knows what else).

When we get to the metro station, I jump out of the van, almost about to vomit. I head downtown to try and find soap or sanitary towels in a pharmacy.

I get lucky: the first pharmacy I go to is selling shampoo. I buy the last one, as the people in line behind me curse their bad luck. I pay the 67 bolivars for the shampoo, plus 150 for a package of wet towels I don’t need, because they force you to buy some of these products along with the shampoo. To be clear, this is not a State-run pharmacy.

I go to several other pharmacies and spend several more hours looking, but neither the soap nor sanitary towels turn up. I go into a market hoping to buy some rice, I haven’t been able to get my hands on it for over a month (it seems they stock up on it the days I am not “allowed” to buy). More of the same: no rice.

My sister-in-law gives me a phone call: “Run down to the market at Yaguara. They’re selling detergent, flour, bread and spaghetti.” Since one baguette costs 75 bolivars, so it is well worth one’s while to buy some flour (useful for making arepas as well). I run over to the blessed market. At the entrance, I find a small photography establishment where they’ve posted up one of my pictures and taken credit for it. I want to go in there and give them a piece of my mind, or, better, say something nasty to them in a low tone of voice, which is more my style. But my sister-in-law is telling me to hurry and join the line (which, luckily, isn’t being hit by the sun, something I can’t stand). The line of people moves forward uneventfully, but the bathing soap and sanitary towels are still nowhere to be found. I’ve forgotten about coffee for the time being.

I near the entrance to the market, named Dia a Dia (“Day by Day”) till recently. The government seized it from the owners. One of the pretexts for this was that they were concealing products from customers to create line ups and discontent. Today, it is a PDVAL market, where many unregulated products are far more expensive than at a privately-run store, but you can find some of the items that “go missing” from time to time…if you manage to survive standing in the hellish, sweat-drenched and often violent line of people. Now, after at least 3 Bicentenario markets have been shut down, the “suspicious” lines of people have doubled in breadth at the PDVAL stores.

I don’t even bother to ask if they have bathing soap. It’s best to hurry back home, because they shut off the water supply on Wednesday night and do not begin servicing again till Friday. One has to store up water and bathe before it’s too late, even though there’s no soap.

Don’t get too frightened, though. At a small store next to my building, I find soap at 50 Bolivars, twice as expensive as it should be at any pharmacy (but I’ve bought it for 70 and someone has paid as much as 100 for them, so I do not hesitate to buy several).

No, it is not Ash Wednesday.

9 thoughts on “Venezuela: Diary of an Ordinary Wednesday

  • Caridad

    To begin with, I sent your article and the movie you posted on the indigenous Leader Sabino Romero to about 15 different yahoo and other egoups, where people could read or view it if they wanted but I have been posting articles and videos on him worldwide since 2010. I have been a supporter of the grassroots and rank and file militants of the Bolivarian revolution since 2000. This includes the struggles of the indigenous, trade unionists, women, gay and lesbian and left wing groups within it and those who have suffered repression by the opposition, oligarchy, officials in a bureaucracy and government who have misused their powers or thrown roadblocks up to not complete the revolution.

    I have been to Venezuela many different times ( not as a “revolutionary tourist” ) met with dozens of groups and all types of people and have been to many different parts of the country ( including the border areas with Colombia) since 2006. So I know a little more about the place, people and actors than your average gringo.

    Besides doing solidarity work, I am currently working and teaching English conversation ( for no pay, as social work) to working class youth at community centers and at a university that is not control by the opposition and whose professors are on strike ( still receiving pay and benefits) denying students there educations.

    In your country (Cuba) I have had some of the same criticism’s that Che had about its economic model it adopted, political repression and the path it has and now is taking. FYI the US has been using some groups to destabilize the Cuban economy and political system for over 50 years, along with the Cuban government mismanagement and zig zag in polices and now following the Chinese capitalist model of so called “market socialism” ( whatever that is) you will not have to worry, you will be able go back and live the life of “rich and infamous” in no time.

  • There was no need to declare that you are a Marxist Cort. To anyone who has read Marxist Leninist gobbledy-gook over the years that is apparent.
    It has always seemed peculiar to me that the faithful have not dug up the remains of Marx from his grave in Highgate Cemetary and installed them alongside those waxwork remains of Lenin in Moscow. Maybe the cost was a deterrent?

  • Cort Greene, I guess in my country , Cuba , there is also an internal opposition to destabilize the country’s economy . I invite you to come to live in Venezuela without your American dollars , earning minimum wage for more than a year. Only after doing this, your words will be more certain than mine.

    When you come to Venezuela do you sell your dollars at the official rate of 12.80 bolivars or 700?

    When I wrote about the murder of indigenous leader Sabino Romero, you do not mention my article with the same enthusiasm.

  • I am a Marxist, I am in Venezuela now ( my second time this year) and for those who don’t know Venezuela, is a capitalist country as is the government ( so is China) in a economic crisis ,as is the rest of the world and facing a economic war by a internal and external opposition. Most services and media ( 80% privatize) are still in the capitalists hands and water is turned off here in Mérida only after a heavy rain but we do have problems with with electric outages ( state company and a aging system) and cable and phone service being cut ( a private company).

    Venezuela has had many free and open elections since 1998 ( called the fairest in the world) and has dozens of parties . Lopez is a criminal and should serve his term in jail.

  • It takes either a staunch communist who cares naught about the truth or the suffering people of Cuba, or a fool to support the incompetent Maduro administration in Venezuela.
    To allocate responsibility to mysterious “capitalists who are hoarding products” is a laughable excuse. Those who know Cuba, know that Maduro and his predecessor Chavez, were both disciples of Fidel Castro Ruz – hence the declining economy. It was Raul Castro who described the name of the deceased Chavez as “sacred”. Wonder if the Pope agreed?
    To describe the writer Caridad of “not being totally honest” is a pitiful endeavor to reduce the value of actual experience.
    Was it the capitalists that shut off the water? In Cuba it runs down the streets from the leaking water pipes and the subsequent water shortages are described as a consequence of climate change, which in turn is due to the wicked capitalists – including the biggest emitter in the world. communist China.
    As for the claim that most Venezuelans agree with Cort Greene, only an open free election preceded by the release from Jail of the leader of the opposition with freedom of the media will substantiate that!

  • As someone who also has stood in many lines in Caracas, Maracay, El Vigia and Mérida and have seen long lines by others standing even at 5:00 am , I and most of them realize it is the result of the economic war being carried out by the capitalists who are hoarding products and many products and contraband are being carried over the borders to Colombia, Guyana and Brazil ( all of these countries are facing a economic crisis) Colombia currency ( the Peso) has devalued by over 60%. in a little over a year compared to the dollar. Our writer is not being totally honest about things such as 50 Bolivars is about 25 cents (about 200 Bolivars per dollar) . a article worth reading –

  • Wow. Caracas seems worse than Havana. I feel great empathy for you and everyone having such restrictions and being forced to buy products that they do not want to buy in order to buy what they really need. It is extortion.

  • If the Venezuelan people vote to give Maduro a legislative majority in Congress in the national elections in December, then they deserve these shortages. At some point, the quote by Joseph de Maistre is true: “Every country has the government it deserves” .

  • Chavez and Maduro really did work hard and not only absorbed the policies of Fidel Castro, they put them into practice! The consequences have now arrived in Venezuela, lack of supplies in the shops, waiting for hours to buy soap. But, all these problems are according to Maduro, the result of evil plots by the capitalists.

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