Dissecting the queue


The BBC is developing something close to an obsession with our country’s queues.

Following on the heels of Daniel Pardo’s sublime video diary on what it takes to purchase eight items from a shopping list, we have the BBC Magazine going all Jane Goodall on the ins and outs of the country’s queues. The value added:

Often people join a queue without even knowing what’s on sale. They get into line and then they ask the shopper in front of them what they’re waiting for. It’s highly likely that the person in front has done exactly the same thing with the shopper in front of them.

We saw one queue that only moved forward because people at the front gave up waiting and went hunting elsewhere. But if you were further back in line – around the corner, say – you couldn’t see this. You just felt the illusion of momentum or progress and were encouraged to stay and wait a little longer. On this occasion there wasn’t even anything to wait for. There’d been a rumour that the shop might be getting a delivery of something – no one knew what – but in the end there was nothing – just an empty loading bay.

And so it goes on. It’s a surreal symbol of a system that’s broken – and frankly, makes little sense. Unsurprisingly people are angry and frustrated. On occasion this has meant that queues have degenerated into riots. And some shoppers have been robbed of their precious cargo while heading home.

I couldn’t help relate this story to Daniel’s amateur video of Maduro’s adoring (i.e. paltry) crowd as he inaugurated a bus line in Maracay. After all, they both show the serious cracks in the government’s propaganda machine.

If anything, stories like these prove that the government’s efforts to clamp down on the truth are failing, much like the government itself.

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  1. So the lesson to be learned is clear. The BBC will criticize the Maduro administration for mismanagement and cronyism but will go no further. So those who oppose Maduro but who wish to curry international media support should not tackle Venezuelan socialism but rather should just claim that its implementation is incorrect.

    • Oh my, that was spot-on. An excellent comment. It goes back to the idea, according to many in the western media, that were Chavez still alive this economic mess would never have taken place. Socialism is NEVER the problem. It’s the face behind socialism that will, or will not, make it succeed. Maduro just doesn’t happen to have the right face. Again, excellent point.

      • Broad denunciations of socialism don’t belong in a news story anyway. BBC are reporting about queues and how they affect Venezuelans. The evidence is pretty damning, but it’s up to the reader to each conclusions about what the root causes are. They don’t need to be spoon-fed.

        • Yes, I would agree that “broad denunciations of socialism” don’t belong in BBC news stories. However, the news reporter could, at the very least, make mention of the fact that the REASON why people are standing for 4 or more hours in a queue is for the simple reason that the ‘government’ has instituted price controls and that the ‘government’ has essentially made the currency worthless. Simple, and to the point. Were you to tell a food market owner in a capitalistic economy that 3 thousand people were standing outside HIS/HER store waiting to give HIM/HER their money for HIS/HER products, there would be an immediate call to action. More cashiers! More check-out lanes! They would hand out FREE umbrellas to those patrons standing under the hot sun. Promises of improvement in the future to those willing to wait, etc etc. Somehow the BBC always seems to miss this very important point….

  2. ” There’d been a rumour that the shop might be getting a delivery of something – no one knew what – but in the end there was nothing – just an empty loading bay.”

    Ok, this is where you draw the line between feeling sympathy and plain feeling sorry. If you stand in line and don’t know what the line is all about, well, what can I say, “perform due diligence?”, “caveat emptor?”, “too bad, sucker?”

    Hilarious piece.

    • There are all kinds of queues , in some people know before hand what products they are distributing but arent sure whether some or all of them will be gone by the time its their turn . In others there are just rumours about what is to be distributed ( which can turn out to be true in all or in part) , in yet others half way in the queue an unexpected product comes in which no one expected would appear. In some no one knows whats coming and in the end what comes in is a product which most people are not really interested in. The thing to remember is that because the access to goods is regulated by the last number of your ID card what people do on that day is visit as many stores as they can , moving from one place to another , from one queue to another or if you are going to a Pdval or other govt owned place to stand in line for hours and hours until its your turn , but then the chances of getting more of the desired products albeit in small quantities is higher than if you go from place to place . People do a lot of buying and reselling at the exit because people need different things and some buy thing they dont need to trade for those they want more of. People do their bargains during the queues to pay for the stuff and then complete their bartering once their are outside. There is usually a six stage process, you enter the queue , then you are given a number , then you hand over the numer at the door to be allowed in, then they check and register your ID card number, then you are handed the sought product , then you queue the cashier line to pay for it and as you go out you complete the different bargains you may have made inside.with other people in the queue.

  3. Just a little remainder:

    Japan will build their new Tokyo-Nagoya Magnetic Levitation train, the most advanced and fast in the world, at a cost of 100 billion USD.

    How much has Venezuela spent in the Tuy railway system?

  4. I remember as a kid hearing the exact same stories from my parents of people in Russia (after our short stay there) getting into unending queues without even knowing, or caring, what they were for just to get any product they may be selling whether it was shoes or toilet paper. Which goes to prove that the laws of the economy and of the market apply here and everywhere, in Russia, Germany or Venezuela, and it does not depend on culture or ideology, idiosyncrasy or education.


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