GLOBAL ECONOMY

Hit by shortages, Venezuelans pay up to 7X regular prices in the black market

Scarcity in Venezuela? What scarcity?

Deodorant, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, detergent, diapers, sanitary pads, milk, flour for arepas, cooking oil … this and much more can be bought in the streets of Petare, a low-income section of Caracas, but for up to seven times their original, government-regulated price.

The shortage of basic commodities has been an everyday problem here for more than a year now, so informal networks have started supplying their own lines of merchandise.

The black market is up and running operated by what Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, calls the “mafias.”

“We offer baby shampoo for 120 bolívars, or about $19 at the exchange rate for imported basic goods," one street vendor in Petare told Fox News Latino. "The regulated price is 17 bolívars ($2.70). We are not gaining all the difference, because we have to buy that product from bachaqueros for 80 bolívars – they are the ones who make the most money,” said the vendor, who requested not to be named.

"Bachaqueros" is the term used for people who buy goods in order to resell them at a higher price. In an attempt to prevent the practice, the government has restricted the sale of certain products and people are only allowed to shop on certain days — according to the last digit of their government-issued ID.

“They get the basic goods through friends or accomplices in supermarkets, and then come here and offer it to us”, explained a vendor. “In one day, you pay bachaqueros around 3,500 bolívars ($555.50) for products that you sell for 5,000 ($794), so the profit is 1,500 (or $238).”

That’s roughly eight times Venezuela’s daily minimum wage.

Other street sellers in Petare work things differently. A 42-year-old mother explained to FNL that she and four other women run a post where they resell basic goods that they bought after standing in long lines every morning.

“We wake up at 4:00 a.m. to buy whatever we can find. After 8:00 am, one of us has to be at the post at all times to make sales. If according to your ID number it's your turn to buy, you have to stand in more lines to get products. If not, you just go to the places that don’t control their sales,” she told FNL.

Their selling post is located near Petare’s subway station. It’s just a chair and one box turned upside-down, on top of which they place their wares. On Friday, they were selling diapers for 250 bolívars – $39.70, or 2.8 times the original price.

“I've been doing this since January. I used to sell clothes, but this new business is giving me more money, which I need because I have three children and no husband,” she said.

Women are a big part of the Petare black market, where there is a system in place to avoid getting caught by the National Guard or the police.

“When you are selling you have to be prepared. We scream 'agua!'" – water! – every time the officers are getting close. [That’s when] you have to pack everything and move. If they catch you, they can confiscate the products or make you sell them at the regulated price,” another vendor said.

One of the vendors interviewed by Fox News Latino said one of his colleagues at Petare’s black market had been arrested 15 days before and hadn’t been released. Another told FNL that some officers could be easily bribed with money or products that are hard to find -- like hair gel.

Despite the risks involved, a 65-year-old grandmother joined the black market nearly three weeks ago. At her post, originally a drinks stand, she now offers all kinds of basic goods.

“My daughter is pregnant and has four more children, so I have to help her with money,” she said. “I make around 10 bolívars ($1.60) for every drink I sell. With these [new] products, I earn up to 60 bolívars for each one. The bad thing is that I have to wake up really early,” she noted.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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