CARACAS – Venezuela is the country with the world’s greatest petroleum reserves, but the poverty of its citizens has led them to buying food by the spoonful to try and deal with a scarcity that has been aggravated in recent weeks as the economy has entered into a hyperinflationary spiral.
Products for daily consumption – including coffee, flour, milk and sugar – are now being offered in little bags weighing between 50-150 grams (1.8-5.3 ounces), the prices of which are raised every day by the street vendors who sell them in residential neighborhoods to circumvent the strict rationing rules imposed by the Nicolas Maduro government.
In the Caracas neighborhood of Petare, several hawkers sell four spoonfuls of sugar for 4,000 bolivars, a little over a dollar, according to the official exchange rate, but just $0.05 at the black market rate.
At that price, a Venezuelan who – like most of the country’s workers and all retirees – earns the minimum monthly salary of $53 (or almost $2.50 at the black market rate), could buy six spoonfuls of sugar.
The resellers offer other products such as coffee in little bags at two, three, four or five thousand bolivars, depending on the weight.
This way of selling tidbits of food has been under way for the past year in the country’s interior, but in recent weeks has spread to markets in the Caracas region, all this at the same time that the opposition-controlled Parliament has reported accumulated annual inflation through October of 825 percent.
Other products like shampoo and liquid soap are also being sold in much tinier portions, including other personal hygiene items.
Shampoo, liquid soap and vegetable oil – being liquids – are delivered to the consumer in small containers of less than 250 milliliters (about 9 ounces), occasionally with improvised caps or seals.
Complaints about fraud have started circulating on local media regarding these products, with opportunists allegedly offering used cooking oil or lime instead of wheat flour.
The authorities have not made public any arrests in cases like these, which have come to light in the western states of Zulia and Trujillo.
Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution established price controls on products for daily consumption, which are generally scarce in the grocery stores, where the law limits the profit margin.
To get access to these products, Venezuelans must stand in line for hours each day at the shops selling rationed flour, sugar, milk and coffee and about 10 other regulated products that are becoming scarcer and scarcer.
The government-controlled Constituent National Assembly is preparing a law on “agreed prices” to harmonize the relationship between the government and the vendors via “dialogue and shared responsibility” with an eye toward “guaranteeing” the availability of “priority” products and services, something that has already been attempted in vain during Maduro’s five years in power.