Translated from the original by Javier Liendo
The year was 1997, I was seven years old and my parents had a popular little grocery store in La Asunción, on Margarita Island. The newspapers were brimming with stories about “the crisis”, about inflation and crime rates. The country was a mess, I guess, but my family was doing fine.
Keeping the store running was up to the two of them. My mother minded the cash register and checked on the employees while my father and I took care of the shopping to restock the merchandise.
I remember this one time we went around to car dealerships looking for a truck. Dad fell in love with a Daewoo Damas, cero kilómetros, which he saw in Losan Motors on Av. Circunvalación. Las coñitas were all the rage back then. Fortunately my mother convinced him that such a toy car would be useless for work. Maybe she was wrong, I saw a few Damitas still on the street last year.
In the end, he bought a Chevrolet Cheyenne 94, used (like the one above, but with a broken windshield, I recall) which cost seven million bolívares at the time, according to receipts I recently ran across.
The purchase had a purpose: the family’s Monza was ill-suited to transporting merchandise and, for some reason, my dad had stopped using the usual suppliers. He’d decided to supply the store by himself.
To that end, dad started visiting several big supermarkets weekly around the island. Pollos y Embutidos La Caridad, Central Madeirense on Av. Jorge Coll and Unicasa, on Av. Bolívar.
Dad went into these places and picked out a few products, then he went into Customer Service and from there, an employee was sent to load packs onto the truck. Toilet paper, packs of corn flour, packs of wheat flour, powdered and liquid milk, cooking oil, to name a few. The rest we loaded ourselves.
Then, we went through the register and paid. In cash and with the same cestatickets people paid us with at the store, because cashing them had become a pain.
Not only that. He would often manage to negotiate bulk discounts from the stores. And by paying at the register, he could use the invoice to claim dozens and dozens of coupons for promotions and rifas that were abundant in supermarkets in those days.
He never won anything, sadly. But supplying the small town grocery store with supermarket products was full of advantages. So much so that we often met the Chinese business owners doing exactly as my dad, to supply their own stores.
We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of products from the cesta básica, being taken out of the supermarket in the hands of my dad, and dozens of retailers just like him, from all over the island.
Supermarkets never ran out of stock. We were never blamed for any national disgrace. Nobody was deprived of their right to food by this practice.
The small town won out by being reliably supplied. My dad won, the managers of the supermarkets won, the economy kept working. There was production to sustain those luxuries.
But since the average Venezuelan has an especially short memory, today we have alleged opositores who have no idea of how chavista they actually are, blaming their problems on the bachaqueros.
Most Venezuelans don’t realize that, maybe, shortages have their roots in the properties and businesses taken from their owners on petty ideological whims, soundly applauded by many of those who are bachaqueros today.
It doesn’t cross their minds that, maybe, the nationalization of the country’s biggest paper factory in 2004 has anything to do with office and toilet paper shortages.
Or maybe, that the expropriation of Venezuela’s biggest coffee processing plants is related to coffee shortages.
No. Bachaqueros are to blame. It’s only sad. As long as we don’t change, Papá Estado can’t be there for everything…not even to fulfill its basic functions, it seems.
Look, I’m not sympathetic towards bachaqueros at all. I’ve seen them, I’ve seen their faces, their red caps and shirts, their gritos gobierneros, their flowering marginalidad. They represent the bulk of the chavista vote, people benefitting directly from the ineptitude of their leaders, people whose idea of entrepreneurship consists of hanging on to the margins for dear life.
But I put in too many kilometers in that 1994 Cheyenne to believe anyone who tries to tell me what they do is the reason you can’t find toilet paper at the store.