GLOBAL ECONOMY

Life in the slow lane: Venezuelans wait long lines for basic products without much hope

Teodoro Gil is 78 years old, and he suffers badly from arthritis in his knee. Every Wednesday he shows up at Supermarket Bicentario in the Macaracuay section of Caracas, at 7:00 a.m.

At 10:00 a.m., this week, he was still in line.

“When I arrive home, I just can’t handle the pain and have to lie down in bed for a few hours,” Gil told Fox News Latino.

For months, Venezuela has been experiencing shortages of products like toilet paper, articles for personal hygiene, diapers, milk and meat. President Nicolás Maduro has blamed store owners, claiming that they weren´t selling all the products they received, and cashiers, who weren’t working for the entirety of their shifts.

So the country has been limiting individuals according to the last digit of their government-issued ID. Gil’s ends in a 5 so Wednesday is his authorized shopping day.

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“Sometimes I am here until noon,” he said outside the supermarket. “Last week I just found sugar, chicken and flour for arepas. But I haven’t found coffee in the last month.”

“This system doesn’t work because we still have to wait in line and it is not guaranteed that you will find what you are looking for,” he said.

Gil’s plight underscores the growing desperation in the South American country, which is spiraling into a deep economic crisis. While the blaring headlines tend to focus on the diplomatic spat between Maduro and the United States, the Venezuelan people are living in Depression-era misery.

Some stores weren’t applying the number system at all their outlets. But in February, the government jailed the presidents of two private retail chains, the pharmacy Farmatodo and the supermarket Día a Día, claiming that they were creating the shortage problem and accusing them of “economic war.”

Since then, the ID regulations have been strictly applied at all the big warehouse stores, whether private or state-owned.

It doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference, Venezuelans say, and it has created new problems.

Madelis Torres was also waiting in line at Bicentenario market on Wednesday. “I have been in line since 6:40 a.m. I came hoping to find milk, but some they told me that they aren’t selling it today.”

“I love coffee with milk,” she said, “but I haven’t been able to drink it for two months now.”

Economists in Venezuela believe that the real causes of the shortages are price regulations for certain goods and the high inflation, which officially ended 2014 at 68.5 percent across the board and 102 percent for food.

“Since we applied [the ID card] method here, the lines have reduced a little,” José Berroterán, a worker at a Plan Suarez supermarket store told FNL. “Nonetheless, another problem has popped up. People get more angry with us now. In any given day, we have eight or nine customers who get furious and scream at us because there’s a product available, but they can’t buy it because it’s not their day.”

After finishing at Bicentenario, Torres was planning to go to Excelsior Gama, another supermarket across the street. “I heard they have shampoo and soap. I need to buy those, so I will stand in that line also,” she explained.

Torres expected to be done at some point in the afternoon.

“To buy some of the things you need, you have to skip work for a whole day,” she said.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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