Monday, January 19, 2015

Choses vues at the Hunger Games

This one is almost everyday to enter Caracas "EXITO"
near Plaza Venezuela. I have driven past it three times
and seen a variation of it with my own eyes. Once
probably worse than this picture.
I have not written much about the massive food and home supplies shortages that we have experienced this January. To begin with it has been years that I have been commenting about food shortages (1). This is not new, it is just a step closer to some paroxysm in the making. But there is also that fact of life that the first two weeks of January there are occasional shortages of this or that because of the bad habits of Venezuelans to shut down the country as early as the first week of December. Ill calculated inventories in X or Y stores can create a local shortage.

But this year it has become calamitous and bad planning in December cannot by any means account for the current disaster. What is happening now is strictly a direct consequences of the regime's disastrous policies as local producers could not even plan for bad inventories: they simply did what they could and hoped for the best. Now long lines at food stores are headlines world wide, even editorials.

I am not going to the whys here, just tell you a few stories as a witness, even though I consider that I am myself privileged by not eating the kind of food that the people in line want and because , well, my life is too complicated these days to inquire further. And yet you do not need to investigate, it jumps to your eyes by merely driving around.


When in Caracas I live in the Eastern districts. Until now in general we were spared long lines. This is over. Just drive around on your normal errands and you will see long lines at most grocery stores, in particular in the morning when deliveries arrive.  The lines even blocked me this Saturday for the second time ever to enter into my usual family grocery store that I have patronized for 40 years! Diapers had arrived....

It is a different crowd

When you stop at your usual joints you see your usual crowd. When there is a change you notice it. Well, this is happening. It is crystal clear that the bulk of the lines that form in my area come from people that do not live in the area, people that actually live in lower class districts of Petare, for example. How come?  Is Mercal and PDVAL failing in the areas that they are supposed to serve? (2) Why do these people need to trek so far to get ONLY the basic staples? You can look into their carts: there is at most 1 or 2 items, in the allotted amounts by the store to each individual. My cart has the usual items as well as the carts of the locals. You see it, it is not racism, or class division or prejudice. It is an easily observable fact.

Because what is sought by these people are the price controlled items. If, like me, you buy stuff not under price control you can still make a weekly grocery shop of sorts, incomplete but enough to manage. In other words, in case you still do not get it, the poor MUST go to fancier grocery stores to seek stuff that is not consumed as much there but that they need for their daily intake and cannot find in their own neighborhood. Unless they go through scalpers.

Early bird

My cleaning lady tells me her method for the Saturday shopping. Her husband who works on week ends starts to stand in line at the local "Bicentenario" at 5 AM and gets a number (they have stopped marking people because people got fed up and thus the Nazional Guard hands out tickets now). She makes it to the store at 7 wen her hubby needs to leave for work. Then she takes his number and waits an hour more until the store opens and she is allowed in to get whatever it is that the state has been able to find to put up for sale.

It has been months that she has not been able to get all that she requires for her week.

Food fights

This happened to me this afternoon.

I was at work and decided to run to the grocery store close by to get some stuff to make a soup.  So it is around 3:30 and I am with my cart at the veggies section. All is normal. Suddenly big bags of corn flour arrive. It is the one that is price controlled, the "normal" Harina P.A.N.. The one that "el pueblo" wants because there are other presentations like the one I buy which has extra fiber, but costs almost twice as much (though still dirt cheap, a dime or 3 bucks depending on your preferred exchange rate).

Now, even in these times of scarcity IF you are in the store and even IF a particular scarce item is arriving, you will get some because the store sells only a few pounds to each customer. There is plenty of time.

Well, a food fight started and the store personnel had to struggle to bring order and force people to stand in line. Of course, the gates of the store were locked fast to limit the number of people that get in, something that now happens EVERY TIME corn flour, laundry detergent, cooking oil, etc, arrive.

I was in shock and moved away to the refrigerated section not for fear but for shame of witnessing such a sorry scene.  Yet, when I was done and I saw the line normal I just went there and got my 8 pounds of corn flour; for my cleaning lady, by the way, that I gave her as a gift later on. I had already in my cart 4 pounds of the fiber enriched flour.

Thus there was ENOUGH for the customers attending at arrival, but people are now panicking at a possible lack of food.

But this was not all. During these brief minutes, and in spite of controlled access, the store managed to fill up and long lines were at the cashiers and most of the line were people carrying ONLY their 8 ponds. And many, well, that did not look like regulars. So, for an errand that would have taken me less than a half hour, I had to spend more than an hour until I could get back to the office. Also I saw plenty of people from my office and others who were there, having been warned of the arrival and abandoning their desks on the spot to run and get some. How can we forbid them to do so?

If this happens to me in "protected" and allegedly "civilized" areas, I shiver at the idea of what is going on in Catia or Petare.........

1) The first time I did a report on food shortages was on January 14 2006. 9 years ago!  Since then I did several picture posts of different aspects of food shortages. You may visit them if you want and realize that those shortages were actually not as bad as the ones we are going through this time around.

2) Mercal and PDVAL are the subsidized food distribution stores that Chavez set for electoral purposes and that paid off handsomely.


  1. These lines will be reduced when the government introduces the rationing system. This will probably take a couple of years. Once it's in place you will be able to purchase your minimum allotted calories in a hurry. I remember in Cuba the ration included 340 grams of beef per month. And they allowed us to buy one can of condensed milk per week. But we used to get much more rice, black beans, and plantains.

    1. Anonymous5:21 PM

      Damn...Cuba and now here? You don't have much luck in choosing places to live.

    2. The lines will be reduced when the prices are free to roam. If you limit the amount people can buy, everyone will buy that amount, as the price is low.

      If the prices are free, some will get huge amounts, some will buy another thing (as it is expensive). The store will get more staples and no one will have shortage of food.

      The price can get lower or higher, but you will have lots of options to choose for the least expensive, not having to run away from your job to go to almost another city to spend 2 hours on a line to get 4 packages of flour.

  2. I visited Cucuta for New Year's Eve and decided to walk over to San Antonio de Tachira to see for myself if the markets were really lacking in certain products. My wife and I confirmed in four different stores that there was no chicken, no toilet paper and no sanitary napkins. I didn't trek into San Cristobal to see if in bigger cities it was the same deal but being a frontier town one wouldn't expect such situations. I hope this is really the beginning of the end of this regime, Colombia's fate is tied to what happens in Venezuela given the nature of the "peace talks" in Havana.

    1. Anonymous12:11 PM

      Many of my relatives live in Tachira, 30 minutes from San Cristobal, although my immediate in-laws live in Cua (outside of Caracas). It has been awful there for over a year. My mother in law occasionally had to travel the 11 hours to Tachira to bring them OTC asthma medicine and other items they could not find there.

      Caracas is just now dealing with the severity of the problems many other areas have dealt with for many months.

  3. JRAY556810:38 AM


    Can you make a posting of all the food shortage pictures you have posted over the years?

    It will be a great way to see the evolution of the problem over time.

    1. If you follow the tag "food shortages" you have it all.

  4. Boludo Tejano12:00 PM

    Unless they go through scalpers.

    A telling sentence. A behavior that was once confined to tickets for high-demand rock concerts or sporting events is now found in purchasing basic food commodities. A kilo of beans or rice is as sought after as a ticket to the World Series, World Cup, or Rolling Stones concert. And the markup may be higher for the beans and rice- at least the markup from the subsidized price.

    Interesting that people from poorer areas are coming to the richer areas to try to obtain the subsidized food. But hasn't this been going on for years? IIRC, I had read that the buhoneros/scalpers went to the stores in the richer areas to get food to sell at market/higher prices. But with restricting quantities, this would not be as easily done as it once was. Or today, are buhoneros/scalpers no longer purchasing from stores in richer areas for subsequent resale, but Juana Fulana/Jane Doe purchasing for her family?

  5. Anonymous12:59 PM

    If you can find it, the controlled sale of corn flour is limited nationwide to 4 bags per person. Each bag weighs 1 kilogram or 2.2 lbs. One bag of Harina P.A.N. (Producto Alimenticia Nacional) can yield 20 arepas so four kilos probably does not last a week for a Venezuelan family.

    1. You are wrong!
      2 pounds of PAN will barely last a day in a family of 5. They eat arepa every meal.

    2. Anonymous10:55 PM

      Arepas are sure popular here. Either slathered with margarine or filled with ham and cheese, arepas are the preferred economic meal for every Venezuelan family ever since Polar invented the mass produced version of the traditional "hard to make at home" maiz pilado or PAN. Also I calculated 2.2 pounds, one bag makes 20 arepas only for one day for a family of five. But 4 kilos, four bags, makes 80 arepas that will probably not last a week.

  6. 1979 BP2:53 PM


    Chomsky: Paris attacks show hypocrisy of West's outrage

  7. Anonymous6:20 PM

    Yo no podría describir mejor lo que personalmente viví también en un supermercado de Santa Fe (sur/este de Caracas). Fue exactamente lo mismo! Y lo que me toca vivir ahora cada vez que necesito comprar algo. Aparte de soportar las groserías, insultos y malos tratos por parte de algunos de estos individuos, cuando se me ha ocurrido llamar la atención a alguno de ellos por colearse o colear "amigos" en la cola de las cajas para cancelar. Debo aclarar que pertenezco al genero femenino con bastante mas de 60 años. Y si, terminara siendo un motivo de racismo, división y prejuicios. Lo siento.

  8. Long lines, fights over food, poor not being able to find stable goods, all seems to lead to gov't getting further involved by issuing these foods to the poor for free as in Cuba. And the poor will love it and say we are better off then ever. You cannot help ignorance and laziness and unfortunately Venezuela is majority poor and they are majority lazy and ignorant. At some point the price of gas will not matter as no one will have cars. Hoping history of Venezuela will repeat it self and the students will lead the country to a change in control.

  9. I remain impressed after my phone conversations with my numerous friends and family in Caracas and the Interior, how easy life still is there on the material level....people working part time and earning enough to live quite nicely....people who would rather stay there than immigrate to the US where people have to actually work...I see poor people buying expensive dogs, taking vacations, having parties, buying brand new flat screens, the latest phones ,etc.......all over the world there is a misconception of poverty but nowhere is this better illustrated than in Venezuela.....the day that people care more about justice and freedom and less about cel phones and harina pan, there will be hope...firepigette

    1. Anonymous1:01 PM

      ....and their mobile phones are only used to send volumes of drivel by text. Only a few search the internet for information. Ignorance is the biggest issue.

  10. Anonymous11:03 AM

    Daniel I enjoy reading your blog I am married to a Venezualan. I feel part Venezuelan myself I loved the country and the people there. It is so disheartening they are and the country is in such distress. I do think they will pull through this time once they are rid of the oppressive government.Prayers go out to all every day. Keep blogging Daniel so we will have a better understanding of the situation.

  11. Anonymous4:22 PM

    I just got word that Venezuela is fixed. People have cheese + arepas and free gas. Seems like everything is solved!

  12. Anonymous5:01 PM

    Jaua announced that the government will put an end to the lines at food stores. At this stage this can only be done by rationing. How long does it take to issue the ration books? Or is this going to be done by the CNE with Smartmatic machines and the revised Tascon list?

  13. Honestly at this point full blown Cuba looks good compared to Venezuela. If all my in-laws lived in Cuba my wife and I would feel safe visiting them and they would have some level of health care. As it sits we have not seen them in 2 years, they cannot find anything they need and even the poor are being beat and robbed at gun point for the little they have. Is a very sad day when Cuba looks better.

  14. Anonymous2:39 PM

    Sadly, I agree with you!


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