Bachaquero = “Buy-and-Flip Hustler”

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Kudos to Bloomberg’s Andy Rosati for a fun little addition to the Venezuelan-to-English dictionary. The sirloin:

“About a year ago, I realized I could make more from reselling a single packet of diapers than cleaning an entire house,” Laura said. She asked that her last name not be published since she is, in effect, part of a criminal network. (It’s illegal to sell some staples above official prices and the government sporadically cracks down on the practice.)

The term bachaquero, coined after leaf cutter ants (bachacos) that carry many times their weight on their backs, was first applied to smugglers along Venezuela’s western border years ago. Now it is a word heard everywhere. The Caracas polling firm Datanalisis says more than one-fourth of the population has engaged in the practice over the past year.

Rosati’s piece brings to light how difficult and precarious the job of bachaquero really is. Getting up at 2 am, standing in line, being hustled yourself, not being able to share your name … that sucks, no matter how much Laura spins it.

It’s also not how you build a modern society. People like Laura might be making a killing from time to time thanks to their hustling, but she, like the rest of the country, will soon face a day of reckoning.

18 COMMENTS

  1. My wifes aunt in Maracaibo barters the condoms we send them in monthly care packages for cooking oil and rice. They do what they have to do to survive. (Despite the fact that condoms are a precious commodity in Venezuela right now, it is getting very difficult to find even such basic anymore.)

    • Wait, you send your wife’s aunt … condoms?! The only thing I’ve ever given my wife’s aunt is a bottle of wine when she has us over for lunch.

      • Aunt Sophia would LOVE a bottle of wine!!! But since parcels are priced on their size and heft, we send things that are light weight and easy to barter. 90% of what we send them is for bartering. We also send along medical prescriptions filled in the US and paid for with dollars. Antibiotics, anti-hypertensives, and birth control pills for the extended family. However, it has come to our attention that some of our packages are getting “lost” in customs. Both DHL and FedEx have assured us that the packages arrive at customs but recently have been getting misplaced….

    • The sad part about that article is that they focus on the bachaqueros as if they were the problem.
      The real problem is scarcity, brought on by controlled prices. Bachaqueros are just the inevitable byproduct.

      When people stop focusing on the bachaqueros and start looking for the cause, that is when the solutions will be found.
      People need to put the blame where it belongs, not with the bachaqueros but with the politicians that decreed the price controls, they are the real culprits.

  2. One thing that stands out to me that is missing from the masthead photo in the article is a distinct lack of tricolor track suits, or pretty much anything else. I guess a tattered umbrella counts.

    Fun reference point: price-checking her photo against regular prices in the U.S.; excluding the feminine hygiene products since I’m not exactly up to speed on their cost, the other stuff runs ~$125. With normal discounts on about 25% of those items at any time, (buy 1 get 1 free razor packs, 10/10 toothpaste, etc.) it is probably closer to $80-90.

    We have also been sending lightweight items that can be traded; contraceptives and medicines have been a premium items with the best return-to-weight-value.

    Pro Tip: For those interested in sending cash, send magazines in English no one would be interested in at customs, such as Waste Management Review, Supply Chain Magazine, Land Development, Classic Tractor, and Modern Asphalt, amongst others. Then conveniently tape a couple of C-notes to the inside of the 1st and 3rd quartile pages along the stapled “binding”. Bonus points if you find a picture or ad that helps camouflage the cash.

    • Excellent ideas! I won’t give too much away, as I am sure the Chavistas are reading this, but “documents” (neurophysiology transcripts in English) are not usually given close examination in customs. In addition, documents do not have to be declared.
      Also, small denomination dollars are appreciated. The last time we visited we brought $1000 in $1 bills and coin that was VERY much appreciated. (Though for whatever reason, coins are viewed with disdain outside of the US?)

  3. Everyone has a love-hate relationship with bachaqueros. They can be the resource through which you get life-saving medicine for family members but they can also be the reason you didn’t find milk, flour or meat on your assigned date at the supermarket.

    Given the extent of general corruption and how it has permeated in all aspects of life in Venezuela, it’s easy to picture them all as a bunch of vivos scheming with their buddies in supermarkets to make easy money and avoid doing real work. And no doubt that’s how most of them started out when there was relatively more food on the shelves and the inflation wasn’t that difficult to navigate through.

    But now? It’s hard to imagine anyone not buying anything they don’t need at the market in order to trade it or resell it just to get by. People would comment on how tight their budget was a couple of years ago but today, budgets are just suffocating people.

    No amount of adjustments to the minimum wage is enough to deal with the inflation and scarcity anymore. The government has created an environment where you either engage in this practice to survive or eat your morals for dinner.

    So how do you tell the single mom stocking up on vegetable oil and reselling it so she can feed her two kids that what she’s doing is wrong? How do you explain to the pharmacist that hoarding asthma medicine behind the counter so he can trade them for cancer treatment drugs for his diagnosed father is despicable?

    The situation is not as black and white as it was anymore. The name of the game is survival and we’re seeing people getting their hands very dirty to do it.

    To be clear, the people who’ve done this practice since day one of the “fair prices law” bullshit because they see bachaqueo as a full-time legitimate job are the ones who deserve our full contempt, and they deserve a reckoning, whether it comes in the form of a police shakedown or an actual due process in court.

    But the waters are too murky nowadays to sort out the people who are desperate from the people who are just being dishonest.

    • There you have it, the colonoscopic coward barked on his first speech upon seizing power that “anybody could steal if they used as excuse that they were hungry”, he made his dream come true, and Venezuela is reduced now to a bunch of people that desperatel tries to survive for any means possible, regardless of how legal those means are.

    • “they can also be the reason you didn’t find milk, flour or meat on your assigned date at the supermarket”

      This is the part people do not get. This is simply not true.
      The reason you do not find food is scarcity.
      Simply, there is not enough food for everyone. Period.
      So those that have more power get the food and the rest suffer.

      Yes the bachaqueros may be the visible way through which the food reaches those who can get it.
      But if bachaqueros were somehow magically eliminated that does not mean that you would have access to milk, flour and meat. The mathematics do not work. There is no food because is not being produced.

      Imagine there were no bachaqueros,
      imagine nobody was reselling anything for profit,
      how do you think it would be?
      lines would still be equally long,
      people would still be getting in place the day before,
      people would still be fighting for a place in the line,
      some would still have more insider information,
      you would still not find the food.

      It is absurd to focus on the bachaqueros,
      focus on the cause, not the consequence.

      Make others see it too,
      make them understand the real reason they are suffering,
      it is not the bachaqueros.
      The real cause: controlled price.
      People need to direct their anger towards controlled prices
      and those that imposed them.

  4. Desperation is corrupting. People who must lie and cheat and steal to survive become de-moralized. I saw a comment that many of the surviving prisoners in the German concentration camps had become so habituated to lying, cheating, and stealing that they continued it after the liberation, disgusting the Allied soldiers.

    This links to a comment I saw recently on “Borderline Personality Disorder”, which often includes manipulation, and of course lying, cheating, and stealing. BPD often develops through a childhood dominated by an abuser; and once ingrained, is incurable.

    The harm done by chavismo may include permanent damage to Venezuela’s national character.

  5. I don’t normally read the TeleSur articles. Their blatant lies and propaganda just infuriate me. However, for some reason, I went ahead and read this one, which addresses the “bachaquear” phenomena:

    http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Behind-the-Food-Lines-in-Venezuela-20160514-0035.html

    To my surprise, it was actually a simple and rational explanation of the economic causes behind the shortages and the black market. It explained exactly how the government’s economic policies created disincentives for national production and how they made all sorts of arbitrage schemes possible. Shocking, right?

    I was with them right up until they concluded that ALL of the problems are because of the private businesses are taking advantage of the system. It is sort of like a mathematical proof that proceeds rationally right up until it concludes that the final numerical answer is “Blue”.

    • The author is not completely wrong when he describes all the corruption that goes on with the import of goods. But just like those that focus on the bachaqueros he is ignoring the real cause.

      When the government decrees prices for goods — whether it is milk, gasoline or US dollars — at levels well below their real value, it destroys all incentives to produce them and simultaneously promotes profiting from reselling them. The bigger the incentive the more corruption it will generate.

      The government loves to blame others, bachaqueros, importers, even the people, but it is its policies of price controls (including foreign exchange control) the ones causing all the hardships.

      • “When the government decrees prices for goods — whether it is milk, gasoline or US dollars — at levels well below their real value, it destroys all incentives to produce them and simultaneously promotes profiting from reselling them. The bigger the incentive the more corruption it will generate.”

        Because the actual purposes were to create a monopoly on the goods to achieve political control of the population and the country.

        Communism 101, take over all the means of production to secure your grip onto the power.

    • I wish I had a nickel for every Chavez loving economist out there who loves to blame Capitalism for Venezuela’s downfall.
      By definition, Bolivarian socialism is so wonderful that it makes Capitalism look anachronistic. What fool wouldn’t embrace Bolivarian socialism? There cannot be Capitalism if Bolivarian socialism rules the day. Yet Venezuela suffers.
      I have read two articles in two days (Jeff Spross, Mark Weisbrot… two useful idiots) that have concluded that the only reason Venezuela is ruined is because of greedy bachaquearos and the vile United States and its “economic war”.
      These fools who write for The Nation, Venezuela Analysis and TeleSur know nothing about economics.

      • All the problems of Venezuela are due to the economic war.

        Unfortunately, is the one waged by Chavistas against the economy.

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