Photo: José Díaz

As soon as Nicolás Maduro’s broadcast ended on Friday, August 17, people drove to the pharmacies and supermarkets that were still open. They filled their shopping carts with non-perishable food, personal hygiene products (brands didn’t matter), cookies, ice cream, soda, pet food, medicine and even makeup.

What was seen that night didn’t end after the shops emptied and closed for the day.

On Saturday, August 18, people continued in a panic and uncertainty that wasn’t just caused by the reconversión monetaria, the limits on bank transactions or the increase on the price of gas; it was the announcements by president Maduro, which included an increase in minimum wage by 5,900%.

“I never thought minimum wage would go up like that,” says Teresa Barreto, a retired teacher. “This is crazy. The level of angst is high, I didn’t sleep, I’m worried about my grandchildren. They can’t go to school in an economy that surpasses any inflation percentage.”

“I know nobody should be suprised by the regime’s inefficiency, but what happened yesterday night was just too much.”

And Mrs. Barreto wasn’t alone in her vigil: Marieta Betancourt told me, as she loaded her shopping cart: “Look at him, my husband didn’t sleep. He has a company and these announcements by Maduro will finish his business. He crunched numbers all night. His two employees will now earn more than his total revenue.”

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Photos: José Díaz

Lines in supermarkets and department stores didn’t take long to appear. Everyone who could, bought clothes, shoes and household products.

“I’m taking a dozen white t-shirts,” said Miriam Palencia, waiting for the point of sale to work again. “I’ll pay with my credit card. After this, it’ll be impossible to buy clothes for my son.”

When I asked if she was shopping to be protected from the reconversión, she admitted that she just rushed to the shops. “I find this devastating, the worst Black Friday in our history. We’re even going to pay more taxes, he lost his mind. Maduro hates us.”

Comments, overall, weren’t encouraging for the government, since people spent up to three hours in line. “What they did was disguise the raises and devaluation”; “this is to further subdue the people”; “what he did can’t be referred to as ‘economic measures’”; “it’s not dollarization, it’s acknowledging the black market dollar”; “nobody will replenish merchandise”; “when products appear, they’ll have prices we won’t pay.”   

And cashiers had to patiently face the collapse of points of sales.

“Mercantil cards aren’t working,” one told me in a supermarket at Fuerzas Armadas Av, and another in Los Palos Grandes agreed: “Provincial cards aren’t working.”

Not a regular Saturday

Caracas saw unusual movement from very early. Many, due to poor public transport, walked long distances to reach commercial areas like El Cementerio, downtown Caracas, Quinta Crespo, Sabana Grande and Chacao.

They found a devastating landscape, that intensified their concern. Entire blocks of stores were closed (mainly furniture, shoes, hardware and even candy shops). Some areas, by the way, had no electricity.

Photo: José Díaz

Carlos Díaz, an employee outside a shop, says his bosses told him they wouldn’t open until Tuesday, August 21:

“They told us they’re crunching numbers for the reconversión, but I think this’ll go beyond that. They asked for patience and to come back on Tuesday.”

Edison Rivas, another salesman, says he got up at 4:00 a.m., since his bosses asked him to come in early to re-adjust prices:

“All prices are changing, this was unstoppable.”

They will be fired

Commercial activity in Caracas was already low. Shops close at 4:00 in the afternoon, with no merchandise to sell.

Those who survive, change their core business; if they used to sell fabric, now they sell food, for example. “Even that isn’t enough to stay afloat, suppliers won’t give any credit and you work at a loss” says Abraham Araque, a merchant. “I’ll have to adjust my employees’ salaries. I did it in December, 2017, I had seven employees; now I have three. How do I pay their social benefits with a 180 million bolivars minimum wage?”  

The panic didn’t give way to calm, because on August 19, there won’t be a banking system that can deal with transactions.

On August 19, there won’t be a banking system that can deal with transactions.

Shops, like bakeries in downtown Caracas, plan on working until noon if points of sales work. Word is, banking platforms will be disabled in the afternoon because of the adjustments of the reconversión, and it may last until Monday afternoon.

“I’m sad,” said Luis Camacho, as he left a supermarket, “I’m anxious. I’ve never been hungry like other Venezuelans, but I can’t provide for my family anymore. Today, I’m buying meat, rice, pasta and sugar, but that won’t last long. The worst will come after August 20.”

On Saturday, we saw sheer desperation for the few hours the bolivar fuerte still had on this Earth. Picture tomorrow, with gas, the rush of a new currency and the chaos of today’s sins.

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44 COMMENTS

  1. And what about Tuesday? Remember “Dios aprieta pero no ahorca”

    Nothing will happen. Just don’t leave your home this Tuesday.

  2. I’m really curious about what will happen after Maduro goes, i mean, i just can’t see a civilian taking over what is now ostensibly a tropical Yemen, and when Maduro goes, PSUV goes.

    The best outcome i can see is some sort of civilian/military government that leads to a democratic transition (though this is very idealistic and hopeful).

    Worst case scenario: Say hello to Pinochet 2.0

    • one that erradicates and shoots every single armed colectivo , consejo comunal leader , illegal invader and cartel de los soles thug in the face.

          • Who is you? I’m not an Allende fan. He was a well intentioned guy and regret the way he died. But his policies were nefast and only that Pinochet could do something about. Venezuela needs a Pinochet.

          • @Pepe/Jose:

            In other forums, the format is that your “response” names the name of who you are responding to, along with a cascade.

            In this forum, typically a response will follow in a cascade only. If the responses go on long enough (past 4th generation), it doesn’t cascade, and the responder has the responsibility to naming the respondee.

            My response wasn’t to you. It was to Canucklehead. (see the cascade) So you have to pay attention. Actually, it would behoove all of us to name names when responding, as common courtesy. A simple @Pepe or @ElGuapo at the header would suffice.

      • Jacques, are you a socialist French? what is that you don’t like? Pinochet stopped Socialists before they transformed Chile into a shithole. Socialists love to transform and never stay back..

        • Always Pinochet this, Pinochet that here in the Caracas Chronicles comments section. I think we need to broaden our horizons a bit. Pinochet is kind of a name brand in certain circles, but don’t you think some others deserve mention as well? General Jorge Videla, Field Marshall Castelo Branco, General Efrain Rios Montt…and then there’s some home grown Venezuelan military dictator talent too. Why limit ourselves?

          • Is Pinochet the best you can do?

            Let’s make a short list of the leftist despots responsible for the deaths of perhaps a billion people under the awesome worldview of Karl Marx?

            Mao
            Stalin
            Lenin/Trotsky
            Pol Pot
            Castro/Guevara
            And today’s darlings of Marx

            Ortega and Chavez

          • Guapo – I know Pol Pot gets all the credit, but Brother No. 2 was no slouch when it came to slaughtering folks for party purity.

          • Videla was too currupt and a traitor. So many innocent soldier died under him and his fancy Malvinas war. Castelo Branco did many good things for Brazil. And we cannot bring Perez Jimenez back from the death.

            Pinochet was a baby when compared to Social Communism dictatorships.

          • Pepe, I appreciate all this historical nuance you’re bringing here. What do you think of the big guy, General Franco? Stayed on too long? Bad rap because of that Hilter thing?

          • @Canucklehead:

            I left a lot of leftist despots off the list. That is the salient point of having “a short list”.

            Life is cheap for followers of Marx. Inconsequential, when the important thing is “The Revolution”. What you are seeing in Venezuela is the direct result of that belief.

            It is the height of hypocrisy for leftist, third-string bed-wetters to caterwaul about the antics of right wing dictators, when their own beloved “rulers” have been far far more vile. So excuse us for the eyerolls when apologists for Marxist genocide trot out minor players like Pinochet as their example of “horrific governance”.

          • Canucklehead is correct that the basic record of milico rule in Latin America is one of disaster.

            The probability of there being an honest, competent administrator within the Venezuelan military is about as high as finding a candidate for sainthood among the prans in Venezuelan prisons. Nineteen years of Chavista rule have retired military opponents of Chavismo and promoted military supporters of Chavismo. Say no more.

            While there may well be a military successor to Maduro, the odds are that he will be a carbon copy of who gets promoted in the Chavista era. Odds are the prospective General-President will be a corrupt Chavista who will do his utmost to insure that there will be minimal legal consequences for the corrupt milicos.

            Interesting story: When I was working in the Guatemalan jungle, the madame of a house of prostitution introduced me to relatives of then General-President Lucas Garcia- in his hometown of Las Casas. Even government employees told President Lucas jokes. Lucas Garcia spent his final years in Venezuela, in Puerto La Cruz.

    • It has to be some sort of idealistic but powerful Pinochet II
      In the Venezuelan military? Like the head of the Armed Forces, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez?

      General Vladimir Padrino tweet with Fidel: Gracias COMANDANTE! Seguirimos aferrados a las ideas y causas mas nobles de la humanidad. Hasta la Victoria! (We will continue to cling to the noblest ideas and causes of humanity. To victory!)

      As was said nearly a generation ago and thousands of miles from Caracas, Larry Bird’s not walking through that door. Pinochet II isn’t walking through that door. Chavismo has had 19 years to promote toadies and retire any potential opponents to Chavismo in the military.
      The Armed Forces are headed by corrupt Chavista toadies. In addition, Cuban Intelligence is all over the place.

      Dream all you want, but corrupt Chavista toadies are walking through that military door.

  3. Un buen artículo que no he encontrado en otros medios venezolanos… gracias por su trabajo… ojalá su país sepa dejar atrás esta tragedia lo antes posible…

  4. Post-Chavismo, I don’t see any reasonable alternative to adopting the $:

    In crises like this, the most important thing the pueblo needs is HOPE, and I gotta assume that 99% of VZers have the brains to realize this is the only way to stop inflation and start over.

    • In one way or another they are going to have to. Much the way the world embraced “Business English” as the language of commerce following WW2, Venezuela is going to have to hitch its wagon to a stable currency… the dollar being the most stable.

      As I mentioned earlier, cash is only a tool. “The dollar” whether electronic or physical, is what holds value.

  5. I need the Dummies Guide to the Petro, because I will never understand it.

    Some fool buys a Petro today pegged at $60 (there’s that evil U.S. dollar again!), which represents one barrel of imaginary oil that the country doesn’t have yet. (This might even be one of the barrels that leaked into Lake Maracaibo, but that’s another story.)

    Now, we’re talking about an imaginary barrel of oil priced at $60, whereas we know for a fact that foreign shale/fracking producers can now produce profitably at I think $40. Maybe a little more or a little less.

    So what happens when (not if) the price of oil crashes again? What do I get from my $60 Petro? Is it still worth one old $60 Petro, and the government takes the loss?

    And are new Petros now sold based on the now lower value of a Petro? Representing barrels of oil they still don’t even have yet?

    Help me out here, because I’m not a fucking scientist with the brains nor the imaginative fantasy writer to figure this shit out.

    • Don’t feel bad, Ira, because obviously nobody in the regime has it figured out, either. I suspect it is another scheme dreamed up by the likes of Alfredo Serrano or some other loony-lefty European commie economics professor, and Maduro and company are just trying to comply.

    • Ira,

      Deduct the $25 lift cost to get the barrel of tar out of the ground and then remember that Venezuelan tar sells at about a $10 discount to WTI and you are starting with a barrel of oil worth about $25.

      I like the Maracaibo reference. At least the oil in the lake is out of the ground.

      2 Petros = 1 Maracaibo?

    • Ira, you are over thinking this. The Petro is a made up thing. Just like any fiat currency, but in this case, lorded over by a den of incompetent thieves. No one would willingly accept “petro” as payment for something that has actual value (e.g., a sandwich). Key word, “willingly”.

      And, yes, too bad about Lake Maracaibo. What a shithole that has become. But, at least the crabs come with their own cooking oil built in.

        • Recently the BBC aired a news report showing the lake and the fishermen that are still trying to make a living.
          People are still eating the fish coming out of the lake. For many people the only other choice is to go hungry.
          It is scary.

  6. Real purchasing power keeps going down, real inflation up. The economy even worse month after month. Still a surreal Kleptozuelan mystery: where does all the money to buy so much stuff, and then buy some more come from? Our brave pueblo-people must be incredibly hard-working, resourceful, thrift and ingenious. Or corrupt as hell too, complicit with the Genocidal Cubazuelan Narco-Tyranny in many ways.

    If 20 x “minimum salaries” buy you 1 dozen eggs, 1 gallon of milk,some cooking oil, and a pair of used socks in the black market – de donde sacan tanto real? No one rebels, the sheep are lined up to buy stuff. And many of our beloved “pueblo” sheep, not all, are as guilty, as ignorant and as corrupt as Chavistas themselves.

  7. Ice cream is an odd choice to buy for “stored value” in a place with spotty electrical service. But it is tasty with those cookies.

    For those of you with your ear to the exchange rate grindstone – how is the “after hours” trading going? What is the current exchange rate for those doing so in the black market today? They say the market bakes all these uncertainties in, but this situation is a weird one.

  8. Funny fuckers those Venezuelans. … instead of going en mass.to the streets to protest. …they went en mass HACIENDO COLAS!

    VIVA CUBAZUELA (Y)

  9. Thanks Mabel for your story ! You could also mention that when yo are going to pay at the supermarket cashier, you pay in 40.000.000 BsF. amounts do to limits on the bank terminals, a real nightmare due to problems with telephone lines, etc…

  10. Things are getting a bit desperate with all the new measures and uncertainty about how they will be applied and what they will imply , nobody seems to have a clear idea , people know that nothing they do works except to make daily living more difficult thus the panicky shopping but with prices doubling every two weeks its getting scary ……. I think that the regime has no clue about what they are doing and that they just want to act in the hope that by chance some miracle will happen and things might improve .
    I think that beyond the damage that may result from applying socialist or populist principles (whatever definition you have about what they mean and there are at least several dozens) , there is something particularly destructive about how THIS regime has gone about running the countrys resources because other latam american countries that claim to follow socialist or populist ideas , havent caused the catastrophic ruin that this regime has on Venezuela , I for one would gladly change places with a bolivian or a ecuadorian or a nicaraguan, whatever the ideology they claim to profess , because life in these places is normal and bearable compared to the torment that we Venezuelans have to go thru simply to survive .

    • I for one would gladly change places with a bolivian or a ecuadorian or a nicaraguan, whatever the ideology they claim to profess
      Similarly, before 1999, many Colombians viewed Venezuela as the Promised Land.
      The difference between the socialist ruling classes in those countries and in Venezuela has to do with 1) national perception and 2) inflation. Those 3 countries, having been poor for centuries, and also for having perceived themselves for centuries as being poor, have been fairly prudent in government spending. Many Venezuelans have had the attitude that theirs is a rich country, with an inexhaustible supply of oil revenue, with governments spending accordingly.

      As both Nicaragua and Bolivia suffered through hyperinflation in the 1980s, the consequences of irresponsible government spending is a lesson they haven’t forgotten. Ecuador’s inflation by those standards was rather mild, but its being solved with dollarization meant that subsequent governments had their hands tied regarding irresponsible government spending.

      Comparing how Venezuela’s economy grew from 1998-2013, with Venezuelan oil going from ~$11 to
      ~$100/BBL during that time, shows the ineptitude of Chavista economics.
      GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2011 international $), % increase 1998-2013
      Bolivia 36.8%
      Ecuador 33.9%
      Nicaragua 44.3%
      Venezuela, RB 15.0%

      https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.KD?end=2013&start=1998

  11. Imagine that bus fares are kept next week, typically 10.000 to 20.000 BsF. If a person pays with the lowest new coin (0,50 BsS = 50.000 BsF) he would require change in old bills. Can you imagine if the Bus driver runs out of old Bills ? No change available… automatic bus fare increase …. Big mess starting Tuesday 21 …

    And what about Government Pensions ? (Pension IVSS) Next 23, 24 and 25 August BsS. 42,00 (4,200,00.00 BsF.) will be payed out. With new bills ? Old Bills ? Combination of both ? Many people are expecting Pensions to be equal to new minimum wage (180 BsS. or 180,000,000.00 BsF.) Another big mess starting Thursday 23…

  12. “Panicked Citizens Buy Whatever They Can Find…”

    Nope. Let me fix it.

    “Panicked Citizens Loot Whatever They Can Find…”

    THAT’S when you will know it is “Game On” in ChavismoLand.

    Walking down to the local Piggly Wiggly and grumbling about Maduro and standing in a queue and feeling elated because you could buy a can of tuna and a 3 pack of socks isn’t panic.

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