Photo: The New York Times retrieved
The scene had been the same for days now: When it comes to meals in María Inés’s house, it was always rice and lentils and sometimes not even that, although she’s a teacher and her son manages a public school. This night, though, things would be different: María Inés’s husband found a job, after two months unemployed.
The young man took $20 from his savings to buy some normalcy, after weeks of misery. María Inés texted him earlier to let him know that there was no food at home and when he heard the good news he decided to exchange that money to buy some groceries after work. He bought meat, chicken, cheese, eggs, vegetables, flour and even a couple of snacks. It lasted a week, until his dad got his first paycheck.
After the sackings from the March blackout and with a strict power rationing and a devastated economy, Maracaibo is certainly going through harsh times.
This monster we call “hyperinflation” has been hitting Venezuelans for almost two years, but in some places it’s harder than others. After the sackings from the March blackout and with a strict power rationing and a devastated economy, Maracaibo is certainly going through harsh times.
By July 2019, the basic food basket was BsF. 2,600,000 in Caracas, according to the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers Center of Documentation and Analysis, which makes monthly surveys about the price of products. The Commerce Chamber, however, has a different figure: BsF. 3,700,000.
The difference between both figures is around BsF. 1,100,000, a margin of error that’s still over 30 times the country’s minimum wage (of BsF. 40,000.)
The Luxury of Postobón
There’s nothing new about the Maracaibo situation, except for one detail: the shelves in supermarkets are now full of all kinds of food. Most of the products, even soda, are imported from Colombia, very close to Zulia, but they might as well not be there: people can’t afford them.
“If you go to a supermarket, you’ll find products that you couldn’t find before, but it’s all there because people can’t buy them,” says Ezio Angelini, president of Maracaibo’s Chamber of Commerce, in an interview for Radio Fe y Alegría Noticias. The businessman explains that the prices are rising because of shortages of fuel and electricity, increasing the operational costs for the stores that are left.
Codhez, the Commission for Human Rights in Zulia, measured the purchasing power in the state last August 14th and 15th, revealing that a worker’s daily wage (BsF. 1,290.32) is below the average cost of an egg (BsF. 1,440.) Codhez says that measures must be taken immediately to revert hyperinflation, to simply “guarantee access to a sufficient, balanced and adequate diet.”
Basically, so people can eat. Let’s not even talk about other expenses.
The Damage is Still There
These reports in Maracaibo are dissimilar to the predictions of economists and experts after the nationwide March blackout, that provoked the sacking of over 600 stores. Back then, they said that the city wouldn’t recover anytime soon and the upcoming shortages be apocalyptic.
Codhez, the Commission for Human Rights in Zulia, measured the purchasing power in the state last August 14th and 15th, revealing that a worker’s daily wage is below the average cost of an egg.
What did happen is that over 100 stores had to close down for good, which is saying something.
Carmen, 80, regularly went grocery shopping to Supermart, a supermarket in the San Rafael neighborhood. Last March, she had to watch in horror how the establishment was looted. Even some of her neighbors went inside to rob. Now, Carmen must ask her daughter to do the grocery shopping elsewhere: Supermart never opened again.
Lucía is three years old. Ever since she started walking, she went with her family, at least twice a week, for pizza or icecream at a Fiorella Super Market, in Curva de Molina. That business was looted too, it never opened again and there are no other stores from that franchise near her.
Even though Lucía isn’t a kindergartener yet and doesn’t understand what happened, she knows Fiorella won’t come back. She’s too young to remember many things, but she tells her family that she misses going to that place she lost.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.