Venezuela: Of Line-Ups and Ministers


Entrance at a Bicentenario supermarket. (Photo taken by a cell phone).

HAVANA TIMES — Venezuela is the country with the safest supermarkets. I was able to see it first-hand yesterday, when I passed by several of them in Caracas, including one of the largest Bicentenarios in the city (the last Chavez was to open, if I’m not mistaken). There were hundreds of police officers and members of the National Guard, including riot squads, monitoring the line-ups and entrances to the stores.

What gradually became a daily spectacle as of a year ago has become rather uncomfortable news at home and abroad: immense line-ups of people hoping to buy food and hygiene products.

Many Venezuelan families go on vacation during the Christmas season. Some travel, others stay at home, but, generally speaking, it is one the few times during the year when families spend time together for several days.

We know that, when this happens, people’s supplies run out faster than usual. And, naturally, people go out to the market to buy flour, chicken or anything else they may need (including diapers for their babies, milk for their children, soap, articles which were already becoming difficult to find at the close of last year).

So, they go to the nearest market and find that it has nothing of what they need for their daily eating and cleaning needs, and they go in search of these products at other larger supermarkets. Little by little, people start informing one another of where these hard-to-find items can be found by word of mouth, and everyone heads there to buy what they need.

Then, one of the government ministers who stayed in Venezuela to show their faces while Maduro tours Asia and the Middle East goes on television and denies the existence of those lines of people.

But the lines are there, there are pictures to prove it.

So, people are now prohibited from taking pictures in line, and these are being surrounded by the National Guard and police.

The El Dorado supermarket.
The El Dorado supermarket.

I wonder who they are looking after: the people in line, so that delinquents won’t take advantage of them? Or are they afraid the fearless people will loot the supermarkets, as they’ve done on other occasions?

But, weren’t we told the lines of people don’t actually exist?

We have the Minister of Foreign Affairs who says people are standing in line because they want to. Ernesto Villegas – I don’t even know what position he holds now – goes on TV to tell us that the lines are full of spoiled rich kids who are there to instigate violence.

So, we’re to assume that most people in Venezuela are trying to instigate violence? The lines of people are far too long to believe this business of “spoiled rich kids.”

The Minister for the Food Industry then has the bright idea of paying the Bicentenario in Zona Rental a visit (the same one I went to yesterday). This supermarket was so under stocked at the beginning of the year that there weren’t even people waiting in line there. Then, it closed for inventory and, when it reopened its doors, the crowds almost took away the Minister as meat.

Barren shelves at the El Dorado.
Barren shelves at the El Dorado.

There are very embarrassing photos and videos of this.

To prevent such bad press, the said minister, accompanied by the Minister of Domestic Trade (whose most remarkable feat was organizing a Christmas Fair that had to close down ahead of schedule) forbade the press from filming or taking pictures. After putting some order to that disaster, he let some well-behaved customers go in and then, the obedient boys of the official press were able to take a few, beautiful photos of the minister accompanying the people in their orderly buying.

But people still took pictures with their cell phones and published them on the Internet.

The government no longer has any choice but to acknowledge there are long lines of people and that markets are under stocked, so they claim there have been certain delays (“as tends to happen at the beginning of the year”) but that food supplies will be back to normal soon.

Most emphatically, they claim the opposition is inciting people to protest, frightening them with the prospect of a nationwide strike, manipulating people so they will go out and buy things desperately and en masse.

What if this were true?

What if it were true that the thousands of people standing in line throughout the country all have been manipulated into doing so by the statements of the opposition?

We would then be witness to the strongest opposition on the planet, the opposition with the greatest number of followers, an opposition that can destabilize a country by simply moving a finger.

Where are the millions who allegedly support the government?

At home? Or are they also standing in line, in response to the calls made by their enemies?

Yesterday, I stood in line for an hour to go into a government-run supermarket. Judging from the bags people carried on their way out, I saw that it least carried flour, powdered detergent, shampoo, milk and chicken.

I also saw many elderly people waiting for hours to be able to buy something (this is one market where the decree that the elderly do not have to stand in line was not put into practice), pregnant women and women with children, common folk, tired and sad. I didn’t see any spoiled rich kids pretending they needed to buy something they have plenty of at home. I spoke with some people, who told me of the veritable odyssey they had to go through to get their hands on essential products.

What struck me the most (foreigner that I am) was the Administrative Identification Service (Immigration and Foreign Affairs Department, or SAIME) operation set up at the entrance to the market.

The Bicentenario store at Central Park.

The night before, I had read a note that, I thought, was aimed at warding off potential hoarders and re-sellers from Colombia who often have a chain of buyers (particularly at bordering states) that resell products at thrice their price (I should point out that there are as many Venezuelan resellers as there are Colombian). The note as such issued a warning that, as several foreigners buying at markets had expired residence permits, the SAIME would conduct operations at several locales that sold food products.

So, now clerks at supermarkets also check people’s passports? Personally, I never carry my passport with me, only a copy (which is what everyone does) without the visa page.

I asked my friend to approach the SAIME officials to ask. These kindly informed her that they were asking people for their IDs before they went into the supermarket, and that foreigners residing illegally in the country would be deported.

They didn’t mention whether they had actually caught any illegal residents.

As for Cubans working in the country, they must ask for a letter from their Community Council. At any rate, it seems that matter is already being addressed within the official missions where Cubans work.

I know I could well stray off topic if I start to write about that “small” measure which, I am sure, will put an end to the shortage of many products in Venezuela.

7 thoughts on “Venezuela: Of Line-Ups and Ministers

  • An oil investor “expert” at Forbes is predicting the price of oil will stay between $50 and $60 peer barrel for the next 2 years, which will be long enough to crash the Venezuelan economy and sink the Maduro government.

    That said, forecasts for oil prices are rarely correct. We shall see.

    The subsidies for the poor made Chavez very popular, however, the long-term effect of his economic policies has ruined the economy and created hyper-inflation. The resulting shortages and high prices have undone any benefits the poor once got. Today the poor are worse off than they were before Chavez gave them all that “free stuff”.

    But it’s not all bad news: the well connected businessmen and senior military officers surrounding the Chavez-Maduro clique have made fortunes through corruption, smuggling and currency trading. It’s funny to read your comment extolling the virtues of the phoney “socialist” Maduro government. The Maduro clique have robbed the country blind. As Moses pointed out, they’re buying condos in Cuba with the money they’ve made in Venezuela. When the bottom drops out, they will have a nice retirement, while the Venezuelan people are left with the mess they created.

    Political polling in Venezuela shows Maduro with 20% support of the voters. If there was an election today, he & his rotten gang would be tossed out of office.

  • The price of crude oil petroleum will again rise …and soon…and Venezuela will rise with it. Venezuela sits on an ocean of heavy crude but many other smaller fields are way past the easy extraction part of the reserve as the profitability and necessity of hydraulic fracturing seems to indicate.
    Fossil fuels are finite .
    We are gobbling them up faster and faster as the population of the increasingly industrialized planet burgeons.
    They will run out and probably and effectively before mid-century.
    The good news is that well before then there will have been developed a new and very cheap energy source or sources , this created by the super-human capabilities of Artificial Intelligence/advanced computing power, now scheduled to surpass human capabilities by the early 2020s .
    To the point, though, unless the U.S does in Venezuela what it did in Chile in 1973 with the Allende government, Venezuela will survive this downturn and make a big comeback . Oil will continue to be a valuable and vast resource for whoever extracts it, whichever government running the Venezuelan state-owned part of the business.
    Another factor are all the public health facilities and other aid to the poor provided by the Chavistas which draws tremendous loyalty from the bottom of the society as it should be in any true democracy and the poor, although far fewer than before Chavez and Maduro , are still a big percentage of the electorate .
    People will always vote for a government that they feel is providing for them and in a basically capitalist Venezuela where there are relatively few rich to the great many poor, that will almost always translate into victory at the ballot box for a social-democrat type like Chavez et al.
    Unless of course , and as is the history in the region, the GOUSA decides to intervene and then all bets are off .
    Right now the corporate media is doing the softening-up hatchet job on the Chavistas which can be used in any future intervention as a means of justifying the unjustifiable .
    Like they did with Khaddaffi.

  • Ironic and typical.
    Rats. Sinking ship.

  • Agreed. It is ironic that these Venezuelan oligarchists have purchased expensive beachfront homes and expansive ranches in Cuba as a safe haven to the anticipated ‘end of days’ in Venezuela.

  • The money spent on subsidies and public services are only part of the problem. Their macro-economic policies are ruining the economy, while encouraging massive corruption. The senior military officers and politically connected businessmen who have become fabulously wealthy as a result of the Chavez-Maduro policies will fight any attempt to change course. Venezuela is in a death spiral.

  • The populist practices began by Chavez and clumsily maintained by Maduro has diverted resources from the maintenance of public economic infrastructure and towards the subsidization of public services and benefits. Energy costs are unsustainably low and the public giveaway of homes, cars, home appliances has run to ground. While these practices have temporarily garnered public support for the Chavista movement, in the long run, when gas prices rise and the last free house is given away, the people will revolt. Votes purchased by gifts or government jobs can only be sustained by more gifts and more jobs. A ‘Welfare State’ will not stand. Venezuela must learn a new paradigm which involves entrepreneurship and hard work. Unfortunately, as long as Maduro and his Castro-blueprint government is in power, this new paradigm is impossible.

  • The Chavez-Maduro government policies have created this economic chaos, with all the shortages, inflation & corruption. Their response is to deny it’s happening and send soldiers to markets to keep order. The Bolivarian bullies have ruined Venezuela.

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