CARACAS – Keila, a Venezuelan housewife who lives in the western town of Trujillo, is able to get the precooked corn flour she needs on the Internet in exchange for some toothpaste, a product that normally costs less than corn flour but is even harder to find in her country.
Like Keila, thousands of people have joined groups created on the social network Facebook to obtain, by paying money or bartering, the food products and medicines that grow scarcer every day in this oil-producing nation plunged in a severe economic crisis.
These groups are established by area, organization and even city by city in order to facilitate the meetings between those taking part in the bartering process.
The exchange of one product for another is not ruled by their official sales prices but by supply and demand.
Keila, for example, was able to exchange the four toothpaste tubes she bought this week for the equivalent of 3 cents (22 bolivars) each, for two packs of corn flour, whose usual total price would be 36 times more expensive than the toothpaste she exchanged for them.
The scarcity and unpredictable availability of medicines and foods, many of them price-controlled by the Nicolas Maduro government, has forced Venezuelans to spend hours in line outside pharmacies and supermarkets in their hunt for low-priced products, which, though they don’t need them, could well be used for bartering.
EFE found there were many groups on Facebook bartering for food, medicines, and cleaning and personal hygiene products, and the larger the regions of the country covered by these groups, the more people they attract.
For example, one of these communities, which calls itself “Buy, Sell and Exchange (Caracas only)” has almost 150,000 members who live exclusively in the nation’s capital.
Close to 100 advertisements are posted on the Web site every day, and at least a third of them are placed there by users offering some price-controlled product, which are generally scarce in this country, in exchange for another with similar characteristics.
Meanwhile Keila completes her transactions through the group “Buy-Sell-Barter-Valera-Trujillo” which has 12,000 subscribers, a number somewhat proportional to the population of that town, which represents about a third of the almost 2.5 million people in Caracas.
While the more conservative estimates place the scarcity index at around 30 percent, associations of producers, economists and political parties opposed to the government say it is really between 50 and 80 percent.
President Maduro continues to say Venezuela’s hard times are the result an economic war, a Chavista theory that blames the opposition and business owners for the crisis, the widespread scarcity of consumer goods and even for the declining price of oil, the country’s principal source of revenues.