Photo: José Díaz

The Sabana Grande boulevard, a commercial reference of the Venezuelan capital, is already out of products. After the mandatory 50% discount on everything, some stores might close for good.

“I’m waiting for Sundde to arrive. I have 300 pairs of shoes, I’ll apply the discount they asked of me and when the merchandise runs out, I’ll close the shop. My six employees are aware of the situation. I can’t recover after this inspection, I’m leaving the country and six unemployed families.”

Dimas Silva was behind the counter of his shoe store, a block from the Bolívar square in downtown Caracas. From there, he watched with concern, waiting for his turn in the next few hours.

On Saturday, December 2, for the fourth year in a row, the Bureau for the Defense of Socio Economic Rights (Sundde) went on an “inspection” of private businesses. They began in Plaza Venezuela, the Sabana Grande boulevard and, by Monday, they were close to Chacaíto. Escorted by the National Guard (GNB) and the National Police (PNB), they forced shopkeepers to sell their entire merchandise at a 50% discount.

People made lines almost immediately outside stores selling shoes, underwear, trousers, shirts, purses and even food. In less than seven hours, shops were emptied out.

I can’t recover after this inspection, I’m leaving the country and six unemployed families.

It’s a lethal stab to many shopkeepers, since sales already dropped by 40% right in December, a period that usually has an important cash flow. The reason: exorbitant prices. A pair of sports shoes costs Bs. 800,000 ($7.7, at the current black market rate), far more than the average employee can pay, with the current minimum wage plus food stamps at Bs. 456,507 ($4.42).

But some items cost even more – a pair of shoes of a famous brand can go for Bs. 3,000,000 ($29); a pair of jeans goes for Bs. 1,500,000 ($14.53). Even a bra can cost Bs. 250,000 ($2.4).

“I think it’s good they lower the prices” said a woman in line at a shoe store. “(Merchants) cross the line too often.”

“Prices go up everyday, and not by 20,000 or 50,000 bolívares” said another woman who’d been waiting for two hours under the sun to enter the store.

The GNB officers stood guard in the shops as if products were food for refugees fleeing a war. With rifles close to their chest, they controlled the crowds and diffused the constant clashes among customers.

“Last year we managed” he sighs. “It’ll be hard this time. Factories don’t know if they’re opening again.”

Giovanni Mincior owns a shoe store his father opened in el Centro. Like his colleagues, he’s out of merchandise. “I have two pairs of each model in the back. We don’t have much left. Factories aren’t producing, and when they sell us their products, they give us two or three days to pay. That’s why we’re forced to adjust prices. The shoemakers say that the glue, the thread, the leather, the boxes, everything costs more every day, and that shows on the bills we pay. We don’t raise our prices to hurt people, nobody can pay Bs. 2,000,000 for a pair of boots.”

“Last year we managed” he sighs. “It’ll be hard this time. Factories don’t know if they’re opening again.”

Some shops remained closed on Monday and Tuesday morning. Owners only opened after midday, once they were sure Sundde agents weren’t around. Employees were removing price tags and taking brand shoes off the shelves.

Shopkeepers in el Centro are expecting Sundde to drop by at any minute on their nearly empty shops, while employees face an ominous prospect for 2018. The operation in Sabana Grande is common practice for the regime now: they regulate prices, destroying production and restricting free market. The employees of chains such as Balú, which has four stores in the boulevard, or Prime, Traki, Total and Seven, weren’t inspected this year or the previous ones. Overseer William Contreras boasted that they’ve inspected 5,776 stores all over the country.

“We’re profiting now, because I could buy shoes for my two children, but are these products going to disappear, like meat and chicken?” a customer wondered.

“If stores don’t open, we will open them,” said a GNB officer.

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  1. Sad…not just because they screw the business owner….
    The attitude of the shopper….slaves
    The future for them has been decided.
    Just ask the GNB…

  2. “If stores don’t open, we will open them,” said a GNB officer.

    This must be based on the cornicopia model, which assumes there is a never ending supply that store owners can be forced to sell at state mandated prices.

    • “If stores don’t open, we will open them,” said a GNB officer.

      And then what?

      The mind of the uneducated government jobsworth fascinates me. To this GNB officer, businesses just “open” and the merchandise is simply “sold”. Or, in the case of the GNB officer, “given away” via the benevolence of Chavismo.

      And then what?

      If the Chavistas decide to bankrupt my business on Monday, who will stock the shelves on Tuesday? Is the GNB officer going to inventory, reorder, and PAY for new merchandise? Is the GNB officer going to pay my employees? Are they going to pay the rent to the guy I lease from? Electricity? Sewer and water? Or do “Business Fairies” do this?

      That’s the problem with Big Government flunkies and their true believers.. They never get past the immediate. Never do they consider “what happens next”. To them, tomorrow doesn’t matter.

      • “And then what? ”

        Then they have one more day to keep stealing and to keep sipping 18 years whisky.

        That’s the only thing that matters to chavistas, to keep their impunity one more day, nothing else.

        • You see, you nailed it.

          So many people think there’s some grand strategy, some deep thinking, something based on SOME ideology to guide Chavismo these days.

          But it really is all about them trying to survive another fucking day. And why the hell not?

          It worked in Cuba for 60 fucking years!

  3. The last time my wife and I flew into Caracas, we not only got the “Maiquetía Shakedown” (they exchanged my cash dollars for Bolivars, as a courtesy to me!) but an entire suitcase full of clothing disappeared, between the plane and into baggage claim. It was full of clothing for las sobrinas (jeans, undergarments, shoes, etc). Because even back then, it was easier to send the cash, but the merchandise selection wasn’t there.

    This was back in 2014. I can’t imagine things are better now.

    The merchants are going to have to “shrug”. Only when there is nothing at any price will the shit hit the fan. As a small businessman myself, I know that I wouldn’t opperate at a loss. It isn’t my duty to keep employees employed. It is my duty to have black ink at the bottom of the ledger at the end of each month. If I fear that SUNDDE is going to force me to sell at a loss, I won’t open my doors. The worst thing that can happen is that Chavismo expropriates the business ‘for El Pueblo”. Their track record doesn’t look too good, especially when suppliers work in dollars (which Chavismo has very few of).

    Let SUNDDE go into business for themselves. Let the Red Shirts open a business and balance the books, work 16 hour days, go hat in hand asking for loans, and sign a few payrolls.

    • “Let SUNDDE go into business for themselves. Let the Red Shirts open a business and balance the books, work 16 hour days, go hat in hand asking for loans, and sign a few payrolls.”

      Who told you that the red-shirts are going to work? Didn’t you know that chavistas consider working as something only the stupid slaves do?

      They’ll force even at gunpoint to work for free, as slaves of the cuban invaders are intended to do.

      sundde is eventually going to get only one thing from the people: FIRE.

  4. Wow.
    Who is paying these officers and feeding their families? Can’t they see what is happening? They are cutting their own throats.

    • It is not always easy to get one’s head around economics, especially if you have been fed a story about “economic war” that causes prices to increase. The few businesses that are able to operate in those conditions will try to extract what the market will bear, which is not always popular. Note that during hurricane evacuations in the US it would make economic sense to raise the price of fuel, but laws are often passed to forbid this. So everyone fills their tank at the “regulated price”, then fuel stations run out of fuel and those who did not buy before fuel ran out get stuck on the highway. And the ones who got the fuel at regulated prices and arrived at their destination with over half a tank of fuel to spare got fuel unnecessarily.

      • And bottled water. I made the same argument you made, to a woman, thinking it was just going to be light talk. “When the price is allowed to float, those who need it most will pay, and some who buy in a greedy panic might leave it,” I explained. And I was thinking there wouldn’t be more to talk about. “Oh, no,” she said, “prices should be frozen so there’s no price-gouging and windfall profiteering!”

        So I gave an example of a young couple getting to the store early, and buying a whole case of bottles “just in case” they needed it, then later an elderly man might show up, late in the day, looking for water for his elderly wife who was very stressed out, and ready and willing to pay ten times the regular price for just one bottle … but … the store sold out and has none! This woman I was now outright *arguing* with said something like: “That’s the way it should be! First come, first served!”

        I was stunned. But it gave me an insight into a “socialist” personality. An insight I didn’t want … but life often serves up things like broken toilets and leaky pipes, parking tickets, even wars. (I found a way to discontinue doing business with her. She was, btw, “horrified” that Trump was elected President. But she must always be exactly right in her little world … it is all so fragile that she could not withstand the shock of being wrong about anything. It was my mistake to not calmly ASK, “What if the man’s wife should suffer dehydration and need to be hospitalized? Wouldn’t that easily cost the society more than all the bottled water in ten stores?”)

        • Btw, the way the economics work is simply that if one store is charging $10 dollars for a half-liter of water, people will refuse to buy there, and will find a store charging $7 dollars. And that water gets re-ordered very quickly, too, just as additional fuel trucks are put on the highways to replenish exhausted gas stations. Some owners may try to gouge, but smart ones will find the equilibrium price that balances. Economics works both ways, and people remember who is honest, and who is not.

        • ““Oh, no,” she said, “prices should be frozen so there’s no price-gouging and windfall profiteering!” ”

          “F**k everybody BUT me” is the perfect example of the chavista/socialist/communist mindset.

      • There are no regulated prices before, during or after these hurricane situations. Prices go up because of coming shortages, and that’s totally allowed.

        There are only laws against price gouging. That’s a huge difference.

        I mean, are you Amercan, and not know this?

        • Ira – I grew up in Venezuela – which is why watching what’s going on down there today hurts. There are some things in both (and other) countries I don’t wholly agree with, but I only have one moving violation to my name (the sneaky stop sign ducked behind a tree just as I was approaching) – and a half dozen parking tickets I managed to accumulate mostly in two weeks because of just totally nutso-whacko vacation resort parking laws it took me two weeks to figure out. To be perfectly honest, I do not spend much time at all reading laws. They’re set up so that as long as you’re behaving reasonably responsibly, you won’t do wrong. Can’t say the same about taxes … there, the more good you do, the more you have to pay for it. Btw, I don’t see where I said prices were fixed here – the woman argued they should be – but I can see how one could read into what I said, because with all the flurry about price gouging, one could get the impression prices are in fact frozen during disaster periods like the Houston floods because everyone’s afraid to raise them. You’re not one of those $$^&*(!! lawyers I hope … (joke).

    • “Who is paying these officers and feeding their families? Can’t they see what is happening? They are cutting their own throats.”

      They’re being paid with crap bags and total impunity to commit their crimes.

      With a regime like this, one can understand where terrorists that keep killing cops and soldiers in urban guerrillas come from.

  5. My best memories in the late 80s of Caracas were the Sabana Grande. Fantastic restaurants and shopping, clean and modern, and safe.

    My wife returned by herself in 2002 and said it turned into a total shithole. Just 3 years after Hugo was elected.

  6. “If stores don’t open, we will open them,” said a GNB officer.

    Reminds of the case of a friend who had a ranch-before it was expropriated- and the GNB with Agriculture Ministries rep in tow came asking why he only killed ⅓ of the heads of cattle? That he was hoarding! He had to explain that if he killed them all, he wouldn’t be able to reproduce anymore…

  7. “I think it’s good they lower the prices” said a woman in line at a shoe store. “(Merchants) cross the line too often.”

    I can sort of get this mentality. When the government offers a wide array of so called free services and even goods, the notion of free market pricing seems to cross the “socialist” line too often. The more you don’t pay directly for government provided services the less likely you are willing to pay a price to a private party that includes a profit.

  8. Rafael Ramírez announced that he has all the Qualifications to become President of Venezuela.
    He must have taken bus driving lessons.
    As for stealing money and hiding it offshore, Selling people more of Chavez Socialism and living like royalty, he has those qualities in abundance.
    I welcome any split within the regime but an electoral route to the removal of the regime is not possible as long as the regime controls the election process and commits fraud with impunity. The opposition foolishly falls for any “opportunities” to drive the regime from power with elections. This has resulted in giving legitimacy to the Constitutional Assembly while reducing the faith the people once had in the opposition.
    Rafael Ramírez threatens Maduro and his accomplices because he knows where the bodies are buried.
    For Ramírez to come clean, he would be forced to reveal his complicity in the looting of the country. I believe that Maduro has been inspired by the current events in Saudi Arabia and hopes to extort money from the Chavistas that have hidden away hundreds of billions of Dollars throughout the world.
    It would be suicide for Ramírez to return to Venezuela as long as the regime is in power and is desperate for any funds.

    • He’s fucked.

      The U.S. isn’t going to make a plea or asylum deal for his information, because not only are his crimes enormous, there’s nothing he can tell us now that matters.

      We (the U.S) already know it all…or at least suspect it…and if we didn’t, new revelations about Chavismo crimes won’t change anything in the overall scheme of things. Doesn’t help oust the regime and bring the criminals to justice.

      From the U.S. perspective, if we want to punish these crimes, we START with Ramirez.

      He’s TOTALLY fucked, with nowhere to go, Cuba or North Korea not withstanding.

      This is why, I think, his whereabouts are such a mystery. I think he’s still in the states, trying to save his skin, but it ain’t working.

      Passports are passports, and he can’t just slip out of the country without a record of it. Especially since he’s persona non gratis with Maduro, so no chance of using Diplomatic authority to falsify an escape.

      My guess is he’s been talking with U.S. authorities for the past two weeks, and he’s trying to get a deal he won’t get.

      I love it.

  9. This doenst happen in Ecuador , in Bolivia or Nicaragua , countries which follow the same ideological line as our regime ……, the methodical extortion and economic throtling of local businesses with the excuse that they are price gougers is something that is particularly Venezuelan , it reflects two things , the need of the regime to find ways to ingratiate themselves to the population by forcing businesses to sell things at a below cost price while blaming them for the miseries which the regime has brought upon the country and also the chance of giving the GNB and other sadistic predators the treat of playing the heroic role of all mighty avengers of the people with their persecutions and abuses.

    Have recently heard first hand accounts of how people traveling the roads with foodstuff for their family in other cities are again and again stopped by GNB roadblocks and made to pay bribes to allow them to pass with their stapples or have them seized by the GNB themselves purportedly for their own use and gain .

    Also of a Kiosk in one of Caracas outer neighborhoods doing brisk business selling at outrageous prices hard to find foodstuff which is brought to them every other day by a GNB truck ….

  10. Obviously, this entire crisis has been caused by the economic war waged by the butt-hurt imperialist white supremacist misogynist NY real estate developer-cum-Nazi Zionist Pro-Capitalist Pig Donald Trump through his evil Dolar Today web site, which he personally oversees during the few moments he is not on Twitter or dropping babies of color out of helicopters by destroying net neutrality. .

    Don’t believe me? Ask this guy on Aporrea – he gets it!

    In other (but related) news, I wonder if “Judi Lynn” is this Buzz-Feed woman wishing for worldwide Full-on Communism? Lots of fun comments, including people offering to buy her a plane ticket to Venezuela (but don’t bring your dog …):


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