Venezuela: Land of No Milk and No Honey

Buying groceries in Venezuela requires both patience and luck.
Buying groceries in Venezuela requires both patience and luck. (Barómetro Político)

EspañolThe 19th-century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once wrote: “Describe your village, and you will describe the world.” I won’t go that far, but I will describe my home in the hopes of giving readers an idea of Venezuela’s current situation.

You must have heard about the shortages, the lines, and the inflation, but abstract articles can hardly describe what it’s like for us Venezuelans.

We are a family of four living in a middle-class home, enjoying an above-average lifestyle in a country where most households earn two minimum-wage salaries: US$20 per month at the current black-market rate.

One day, as I arrived home, I realized we wouldn’t have milk for breakfast the following morning. What would you do in a normal country? You would probably go to your local supermarket or a grocery store, right?

Not in Venezuela. We could still do that some years ago, but now it is impossible. There simply is no milk. The government frequently announces it is importing milk formula, but it never materializes on store shelves.

By expropriating farms, the government has destroyed the farming business. Milk formula is only sold at outdoor markets, where you have to wait in huge lines under the merciless tropical sun.

Vice President Jorge Arreaza recently praised the fact that one of these markets now sells two kilos of milk formula per person. He called it an “innovation of President [Nicolás] Maduro,” as if it were some kind of achievement.

On top of that, ruling-party congressional candidate Jacqueline Faría recently described grocery-store lines as “delicious,” and the governor of Bolívar state, Francisco Rangel Gómez, says Venezuelans would “eat fried rocks” to defend the revolution if they must. It seems Chavistas nowadays are competing to prove who’s the dumbest.

One of my nephews just had a son. Consequently, every member of our extended family — all 20 people — are in an absurd quest for milk. Of course, when you finally find it, you need to produce the birth certificate to the supermarket, so they will let you buy it. Meanwhile, Maduro refuses to show his own birth certificate and debunk the allegations that he was born in Colombia, which would make him ineligible to serve as president.

Alas, I wish milk was the only thing we’re missing at home. We’re about to run out of coffee (in a country that used to export it), sugar, cornmeal (an essential ingredient for arepas, our national cuisine), and cooking oil. Like milk, you can’t buy these items whenever or wherever you want.

Today is my wife’s “grocery day.” The government has imposed a rationing system whereby Venezuelans can only shop on certain days, depending on the last few numbers of their national ID cards. As I write this blog, she is looking to find what we need.

Flour, rice, and pasta are also increasingly hard to come by. According to private estimates — the government stopped publishing inflation figures in January — the price of essential foods increased by 266 percent between August 2014 and August 2015.

In our laundry pantry, we’re out of chlorine, but we have bleach, which is much more harmful for the environment. We’re almost out of bath soap, but we still have laundry detergent, since we bought a 20-kilogram bag on the black market. Wax for our floors is gone, as is the dishwasher detergent, and we’re about to run out of toilet paper. There’s no telling when we’ll be able to find more.

The shortage is similarly severe in the medicine cabinet. We have no headache medicine, or asthma inhalers that three out of the four of us need to breathe normally. The allergy pills my wife needs so she’s not sneezing all the time are also nowhere to be found. Of course, we consider ourselves lucky. There are cancer and transplant patients in our country that lack the medicine that they literally need to survive.

How did we reach this point? That’s something Venezuelans ask ourselves everyday. How do we keep resisting? We look forward to the December legislative election, hoping to turn things around. That’s what the polls and the people on the street are saying.

What we need more than anything, however, is for the international community to pressure the Venezuelan government to accept independent international observers on election day.

Both President Maduro and National Electoral Council President Tibsay Lucena recently said they don’t care that polls predict a 30-point defeat for the ruling party; they are sure they will still win … somehow. Venezuelans will be forced to accept this fraud, because, as Maduro has warned, Chavismo “is the only guarantee for peace.” Otherwise, “the revolution will adopt another strategy,” he added to his threat.

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Rebuilding Venezuela is possible, but not with the current ruling oligarchy that plunders and holds the country hostage. Change is underway, but we ask our friends around the world to remain alert.

As for Maduro’s threats, I’ll let national hero Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson reply for me: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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