Photo: Betech

“???? POLLOS A DOMICILIO ???? desde ya trabajando pueden hacer sus pedidos al WhatsApp para el dia de hoy tenemos pollos Frescos disponibles. Trabajamos a domicilio sin costo adicional y aceptamos transferencias.”

I get that WhatsApp message every day. As a matter of fact, my status tab is littered with people selling all sort of things — my list of contacts is comprised of mostly people my age, and everyday more of them are turning into merchants so they can go to work.

That’s not a figure of speech; we are at that point in hyperinflation where wages don’t cover the transportation expenses of going to work, and everyone is thinking of new ways of making ends meet. Necessity has given way to a new distribution mechanism, and it’s surprisingly efficient.

I buy from WhatsApp all the time: right now, I have people selling chicken, yucca, cash, pasta, sugar, rice, cookies and bread. The lady next door sells cheese from Upata (she sells milk too, we’re gonna try that one soon) and that, like most products, gets delivered to my door in less than five minutes. I already have their bank info, as long as the webpage is working, paying is very quick. No need to deal with faulty points of sales or, God forbid, lines.

Necessity has given way to a new distribution mechanism, and it’s surprisingly efficient.

The yucca truck does rounds at night. After neighbors make the orders and transfer the money, the truck shows up at the parking lot, with the scale and everything. You bring your own bag, the guy gives you yuccas for the amount you bought, a lady scratches names off a notebook and the truck disappears.

Having a business in Venezuela is very risky. You can get robbed by armed gangs and the military alike. Just last year, a group of soldiers and SUNDDE officials went over informal businesses all over the city, confiscating their merchandise and cash. It came to a boiling point in San Felix, where store owners fought back and recovered their stuff.

Soldiers have also harassed merchants by making them sell them cash at a price they set. Remember cash in Ciudad Guayana can be sold with a huge premium (being looted is another risk).

So yeah, it’s easy to see why many entrepreneurs aren’t compelled to set up their tarantines on the sidewalks, the old-fashioned way, testing their luck instead on the message-encrypted WhatsApp. Nobody outside the transaction needs to know. One of the most advanced communities is inside the brick buildings of Río Aro. Several condos share a closed parking lot, everyone knows each other and every other neighbor is selling something. One has eggs, other hygiene products. You have services too, English classes, hair treatments, something called foot spa…

So yeah, it’s easy to see why many entrepreneurs aren’t compelled to set up their tarantines on the sidewalks, the old-fashioned way, testing their luck instead on the message-encrypted WhatsApp.

Recently, I went to a party at Río Aro and we ran out of booze at two in the morning. I thought we’d call it a day since it’s tough to buy rum that late, but my pals at Río Aro got rum at normal price without leaving the condo.

And prices are very competitive. A girl at Río Aro says she saw a 40 people-long line for sugar at 200,000 bolivars. She skipped it and went to her neighbor selling it at 180,000 bolivars. This is common everywhere but in Caracas. It might be the years of destructive controls on the economy and the subsequent scarcity, harsher in the province than in the capital.

I suspect, though, that it’s a matter of time — the incentives are there. More convenient than stores, it’s faster, and more importantly, a way to make ends meet in hyperinflation. People find a way to solve the problems the government creates.

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