The ‘Access Denied’ Economy

The Maduro regime let the official dollar be and allowed prices to go up, in exchange for reduced shortages. Caracas is now repeating a pattern that we’d seen in Maracaibo already: shelves are full again, but few can afford the products.

Photo: Bloomberg retrieved

“I was in utter shock,” said my husband, arriving from the supermarket. “I hadn’t seen so many brands in… years!”

The bodegones—physical stores that keep popping up around Caracas selling imported goods of all sorts—are the talk of the town, and the prices they charge suggest that no import taxes are getting paid. Products are, most likely, brought into the country via door-to-door services. 

Supermarket shelves are now stocked with many products that we, caraqueños, hadn’t seen for a while. My husband was shocked by the variety of goodies we could get for our daughter’s lunchbox, and how we could choose a brand of white bread. Choosing a brand of anything is a luxury. 

He was also shocked by the prices. He spent close to 100 bucks on a few things that are nowhere close to a weekly grocery list; a 1.5 L bottle of natural orange juice went for $5.

Choosing a brand of anything is a luxury. 

At this point, some of you are probably thinking: “That’s what I pay for OJ in the U.S.,” or “well, prices are soaring because the Cadivi manguangua subsidies died.” And I won’t argue with that.

Price controls and other restrictions have shocked producers and importers for years, lowering the supply of goods and services. Now, given that the DICOM exchange rate comes pretty close to the black market exchange rate (and, at times, surpasses it), stores could legally increase prices. However, that doesn’t seem like a concern anymore since the government seems to be turning a blind eye at price increases. Hence, companies can bring back many products they hadn’t been able to produce or import in a while.

Some prices are even higher than international prices, which makes total sense since most products are imported. Moreover, additional costs must be calculated, including all the merchandise that “gets lost along the way” —especially after crossing security checkpoints—and the inventory that is stolen and resold to make ends meet.  

Since prices have been increasing dramatically, businesses are now worried by the drop of sales. Another basic issue remains: salaries are not meeting international levels. I have to pay international prices, but my wage, even if it gets dollarized, still comes up short. A dollar income is simply not enough.

So while shortages don’t seem to be a problem anymore, limited access is. 

Now, given that the DICOM exchange rate comes pretty close to the black market exchange rate (and, at times, surpasses it), stores could legally increase prices.

Food security is a rigorously defined concept and, to achieve it, four dimensions have to be simultaneously fulfilled: physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food use and stability of the other dimensions over time. In other words, filling supermarkets with food isn’t enough. Citizens must have enough money for food and proper conditions to prepare and eat it.

Most Venezuelans can’t buy the food that’s now being offered, and even those fortunate enough to earn their wages in dollars, have difficulties keeping up. So the reasons to leave the country as soon as possible remain untouched. This new economy of denied access should be the business of some, but looks far away from an offer able to satisfy a nation of 30 million people—or more like 26 million, considering that close to 4 million Venezuelans have emigrated, according to the UN.

We once thought that seeing full shelves again would fill us with joy. Turns out, we’re filled with despair.