SHORTAGE | Basic staples are missing in low-income areas

Hunting for food across Caracas

Caracas inhabitants hunt for scarce products on a regular basis, including on their days off or even during their work hours. Some people stand in line in supermarkets even before knowing what products are available

Lines to buy basic staples are business as usual in Caracas (Venancio Alcázares)
Saturday October 12, 2013  12:00 AM
Adolfo Osma, a panel beater, lost an entire day of work only to buy four packages of precooked corn flour, a basic staple used to prepare many traditional Venezuelan dishes. Those four packages will only last for about a week, since he has eight mouths to feed at home.

Osma lives in low-income Las Adjuntas sector, (southeast Caracas), but he had to leave his house early in the morning to look for the precious corn flour across the city, in the Catia sector (northwest Caracas). He knew he would not find anything in the first supermarket he visited: there was no line outside. Then, he stood in line outside two different grocery stores for a total three hours to buy two packages in each store. When he got back home, it was 2 p.m. already; too late to go to work at his workshop.

Lines to buy basic staples are business as usual in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital city. Many people look for the line outside supermarkets and ask the last person in line what basic product is available for sale. "Corn oil (in small bottles), margarine, and corn flour," replies Eladia Serrano, a retired woman with plenty of time to spare waiting in line.

Across the city, in state-run supermarket Bicentenario in Terrazas del Ávila (east Caracas), Marco Pereira indulged in the "luxury" of buying four packages of corn flour without having to stand in such a long line. "It is just because it is Monday and early in the morning; but on pay days, you can spend three hours here." Of course, he complains about restrictions: "If I am paying, why can't I buy 12 packages, as I used to do?"

Even though there was corn flour available in that supermarket, other scarce "treasuries" in Caracas, such as powdered milk, sugar, toilet paper, and kitchen paper rolls were not available.

Not everybody has enough time to "chase" food across the city. María Eugenia Sánchez works at a ministry (she did not want to specify which one). On Monday, October 7, she seized the opportunity that she was given a day off work due to a pro-government rally, and went to the market to stand in a line for food. Usually she has to do that on weekends and spend a whole day waiting in lines, instead of going to the beach, for instance.

The mood in the lines shifts: some laugh, saying, "at least we have a motherland," like Serrano, for example. Juana Chirinos, a government supporter, takes the hint and puts the blame on food hoarders. "The worst is that we are already getting used to this," another woman declares.

Translated by Andreína Trujillo