“Thank God my daughter paid my credit card last month”, a woman in her 70’s said to me, as she searched for her card in her purse in a long supermarket line in El Cafetal, the iconic middle-class Caracas neighborhood. In her car, she was carrying bags with ham, cheese, two bottles of ketchup and tomatoes. The store was crammed, with a 45 minute line for the cashier. Similar scenes could be seen in in supermarkets across the area. With the 48 hour General Strike looming, people were stocking up.

These weren’t the usual lines you’ve been reading about for years, though. This was different. Lines had died down at supermarkets in recent months, because there just weren’t any price controlled goods worth lining up for to be had. What we saw ahead of the two-day strike was different, though: long lines for regular, not price-controlled goods that people usually just can’t afford.

“I’m just buying some vegetables and juice. I found some smoked porkchops for cheap. It’s not much, but it’s something, I don’t want to be caught off guard… if something happens,” an older man explained to me. He lives with his wife, but his sons called him from abroad to make sure he went out to buy some food, just in case.

Panic buying —or “nervous shopping” as the telling Spanish phrase has it— is nothing new for caraqueños. But we’ve never seen compras nerviosas at a time when family budgets were this stretched.  

There’s no money to buy extra food. This is the worst time by far, when all the money from the last quincena [pay check] is long gone: what can we do?

“A few years ago I would stock up on canned food, but that’s too expensive now,” a thirtysomething mom carrying one of her daughters in her arms told me. “I’m just trying to buy some cookies for the kids, in the end they’re what matters the most to me.”

“And with this heat. Esto es de locos,” an old lady screamed at me as she stood in line in a supermarket where the air conditioner wasn’t working. There was no priority line for senior citizens there, everyone was crowding up the aisles: grandpas, women with small babies, pregnant ladies. None of their shopping carts were full, but at least “it was something.”

“There’s no money to buy extra food. This is the worst time by far, when all the money from the last quincena [pay check] is long gone: what can we do?” the mom asks me, visibly worried.

The chaos wasn’t limited to supermarkets: banks were also crammed full. At the end of the afternoon, a security guard in a big bank in El Cafetal stopped allowing any more customers into the branch.

“There’s no cash,” a motorizado [biker] explained to me as he was leaving the bank. “If you want to take money out you have to wait for someone to make a deposit.”

With news that public transport workers would add themselves to the general strike, long lines also hit gas stations, with drivers waiting patiently to pump some. “I don’t know… ¿A dónde vamos a correr si algo pasa?” a guy told me with a gallows-humory chuckle. “My wife asked me to fill up the tank for the next days, but I don’t see the point.”

The usual Caracas traffic jams weren’t helping helping the drivers anxiously trying to go to a store or get home early. “I heard that the U.S. Embassy said that you have to have food for two weeks”, a young lady said to me, worried.

In Farmatodo, the big pharmacy chain, there was no line for medicine, all the clients were waiting to pay in long queues, most of them carrying water bottles and soda.

“In my house, we’re fresh out of food, even for today. Estamos jodidos. My mom knew that this was going to happen, but we’re not ready”, a young guy was explaining to his girlfriend as they were waiting at the pharmacy to get some water and coke.

“I’m here buying water, my mom is looking for some candles. We have to be ready, the strike is for 48 hours, but, maybe, it can be longer”, a twentysomething girl said to me at the Farmatodo line.

There was a mixed of tension and boredom in these lines. A kind of certainty that “something” is about to happen. In Caracas, there was no calm before the storm.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The lack of the most basic necessities shows just how successful the government has been in their efforts to destroy one of the wealthiest countries in the world. This really took a special talent. It is reminiscent of Mao’s planned economy that resulted in the starvation deaths of millions of people.
    The MUD needs to be aggressive in their opposition. A transitional government needs to be named and the new authorities need to be personally defended by the people against any regime actions to take them into custody.
    The resistance that is not under MUD’s control or influence is getting a life of its own. I believe the regime will collapse in a chaotic and surprisingly fast event.
    The country needs to have an authority that is prepared to communicate to the citizens and maintain or create some sort of order. Otherwise I fear that the country may descend into anarchy.
    Nature abhors a vacuum. The MUD must be ready and able to quickly fill the void that the regime collapse will cause.
    This requires preparation and people to maintain order, prevent looting, rein in the collectives, open channels for humanitarian aid, keep the lights on, the water flowing and the trash getting picked up.
    This is a major challenge that I pray they have prepared for.

    • The major challenge must be prepared for, because if it is not, then what is the point on establishing a new government to sit and bicker about how it should represent, what to do, when to do it, and how. The words of the regime have been a smoke screen, and Kribaez got it right: https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/07/25/union-civico-militar-is-the-venezuelan-way/#comment-141553

      But the realpolitik of Venezuela is that the whole country is in need of repair (to put it mildly) – regardless of who is in charge. Crops need at minimum months to grow, cattle is not off-the-shelf, there has to be a stable currency, producers have to be able to import supplies and parts, and confidence in the direction of the country has to be reestablished.

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