Waiting in Line

by Meg Schmidt

We've all been there. Whether you’re at the bank, or baking under the sun in a theme park, we've all had to wait in line at some point or other. Bored, annoyed, and about to lose our very short temper. One of the most popular songs by the band “Fitz and the Tantrums” features a character just like this — pissed off and tired of waiting in line.

“Too quick for the lines they throw”

But imagine this. Instead of waiting for 45 minutes in line for that roller coaster, you’re waiting in line for bottled water. Or toilet paper. Flour. Imagine holding a squirming baby as you wait in line for diapers — that is, if there are any diapers left by the time you reach the grocery store doors.

That theme park wait doesn't sound so bad after all.

But 45 minutes waits for basic goods, have become standard across the country of Venezuela. Outside of every supermarket, expect to find tired, angry customers waiting in lines for basic goods which have grown scarce after the economy has taken a dramatic fall.

A Rich Country with No Food

A line outside a grocery store

In Caracas, Venezuela, long lines queuing up for scarce goods have become part of everyday life.

“Empty shelves and no one to explain why a rich country has no food,” complains a farmer about the crippling food shortages in an interview with Ian Pannell of the BBC. Pannell goes on to report that the scarce availability of goods is due to an economy in free fall after the changing oil prices, Venezuala’s basic goods are in short supply. “In Venezuela they’re not waiting for the number 29 bus — they’re queuing for milk, coffee, sugar, corn flour, cooking oil, soap and even toilet paper — all are in severely short supply.”

These lines of people waiting for food are almost reminiscent of depression era photographs, where crowds gathered outside of soup kitchens. Long lines for basic goods are indicative of an economy gone sour.

Line for a Depression Era Soup Kitchen

Unlike soup kitchens however, inVenezuela the waiting shoppers often don’t even know exactly what merchandise is available for purchase — they wait for hours encouraged by rumors that a delivery truck is scheduled to arrive with shampoo or coffee. Unfortunately, these rumors often turn out to be false, causing great frusturation.

When Tensions Run High

Customers growing angry about the long wait

When rumors of available goods turn out to be false, or the products customers so badly need fly off the shelves minutes after they became available, tensions understandably begin to run high.

"The rich people have things all hoarded away, and they pull the strings," Huffington Post quotes one frusturated shopper, Juan Rodriguez. Rodriguez does little to hide his anger after a two hour long wait to enter the grocery store, and then another three hour long wait to pay for his groceries. Frustrated with the long wait and lack of goods, some queues have turned into riots, and shoppers have been robbed of their groceries on their return home.

The Black Market

A Black Market selling basic goods

While the rich have been able to find ways to store their money in American banks — safe from the economic roller coaster — a black market economy has been the only alternative left for the poor. In a country where diapers are rationed to a mere 20 per week, there seems to be no other option. However, as Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post, “late last month Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro went on TV to decree a ban on street sales of coffee, eggs, shampoo and some 50 other ‘regulated’ items whose prices­ are capped by the government.” In an unpopular move, Maduro “ordered the National Guard to police market stalls for such items as mayonnaise and powdered milk, and threatened to prosecute…violators.”

The government cracking down on a vital lifeline has been a wildly unpopular choice. “I have six kids and two grandchildren,” one black market customer said. “I’m just trying to survive.” What one Venezuelan calls “survival,” president Maduro claims to be “theft.”

Not every options the government of Venezuala has taken towards the issue has been as radical. As reported by Huffington Post, the government has implemented a ID card registration system for customers. Patrons scan their fingerprints, and a computer system keeps track of their purchases, red flagging any odd buying patterns. This will prevent hoarding and selling of goods on the black market. The system is voluntary, providing discounts and other prizes to encourage new participants in the program.

A Dialogue of Victimization

President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro

This move to cut the black market has been a tricky process for the Venezualan government. Their media respons has been to craft a dialogue of victimization, insisting that America and Europe — as well as smugglers and large franchises — are determined to destroy the economy, and (as Pannell writes) “of trying to undermine President Maduro and the legacy of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.” Considering how inflation is at 60% and the currency rate dropping fast, many Venezuelans are growing less and less trusting of the government’s narrative.

Other countries have come up with their own unique ways to solve economic strife

Global and internal critics are insisting that the government has created the scarce-goods crisis itself, due to a corrupt misuse of its vast oil wealth. The Gaurdian quotes economist Asdrubal Oliveros, who says “this recent bout of food shortages is the result of a series of elements coming to a head. From an over-reliance on imports to price controls and, quite simply, a lack of funds, food shortages in Venezuela have not only peaked but they have lasted longer than ever.”

Economists and the government are scrambling to fix the problem and reduce the scarce goods crisis. But in the meantime, Venezualans are still left unhappily waiting in line.

A very long line.

Sources:

Fig. 1 — Rodriguez, Eduardo. “ORGANIZACION DE COMUNICADORES Y PERIODISTAS INDEPENDIENTES DE PUERTO RICO (O.C.P.I) INFORMA.” : ESCASEZ EN EL PARAISO SOCIALISTA. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2015.
Fig. 2 — “Menu.” On Point Preparedness. On Point, 27 June 2014. Web. 20 May 2015.
Fig. 3 — Gupta, Girish. “Price Controls and Scarcity Force Venezuelans to Turn to the Black Market for Milk and Toilet Paper.” The Gaurdian. N.p., 16 Apr. 2015. Web.
Fig. 4 — “Capturan En Antioquia a Sicario Que Iba a Atentar Contra Nicolás Maduro.” ElEspectador. N.p., n.d. Web.
Fig. 5 — “Imputados Varias Personas Por Fotografiar Colas Y Protestas — 24 Horas De Información Oportuna… Contigo.” 24 Horas De Informacin Oportuna Contigo. N.p., 13 Jan. 2015. Web.
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