How Venezuelans use Inventiveness to Wear Off the Shortages
There is a common problem in all Venezuelan cities as the year begins: the lack of basic products and the resulting daily lines of consumers at the doors of supermarkets, markets and stores trying to acquire basic products.
While the national government asserts that “in Venezuela there is enough raw material to produce and fulfill the needs of the people for four months”, the chairman of the entity that gathers entrepreneurs, Fedecámaras, told a local broadcasting station that “the data we directly have points out that there are supplies for 45 days tops, that’s not good news.”
Without knowing who to believe in beyond their own eyes, the Venezuelan people have adjusted their daily dynamics, by making lines in an effort to buy the food and products they need or resorting to palliatives that help them go through the situation.
A walk through the streets of some cities of Venezuela made evident, once more, the hackneyed creativeness of citizens to face this period of shortage that has triggered so much uncertainty among consumers and sellers.
Gisela Rivas, who does housework for her clients and lives in Margarita Island, said that “when I cannot acquire such basic products as flour for cornmeal rolls, I buy cassava bread or bread, which can be still found. As for milk, for instance, I haven’t been able to buy it in four months because it’s very hard to find it, so we just don’t drink it. When it comes to doing laundry, I have had to buy the most expensive liquid soaps (such as Vel Rosa) and I also go to a small premise where they make cleaning products, I take a bottle and they fill it for me. That’s how we’re dealing with our daily problems. There are long lines to buy food, but I can’t do that due to my health condition and I can’t waste my time because I have to work.”
The taxi driver sector has been damaged by this situation, since they are having hard times to get spare parts for their vehicles, as well as oil, batteries and tires.
Alí Rodríguez, who works for TaxiVen in Caracas, commented that “I had crashed my car and, as I couldn’t find the parts, I was on forced to take a vacation”. In his opinion, when they finally get the spare parts, the quality is awful. “I needed a drive belt for a Chevrolet Optra and I bought one that was allegedly original; it was already damaged 2 months later”, he explained.
Since a cheap tire costs Bs. 10,000 (nearly US$60.00), Rodríguez pointed out that “in order to take good care of the tires and the oil, I never take clients out of Caracas. The car consumes too much gasoline and we would have to overcharge the service.”
Rodríguez’s situation also affects other taxi drivers and the public transportation in general, who are beginning to claim for higher transportation fares in several states of the country.
According to economy analysts, the regulation of prices decreed on February 11, 2003 as a measure to avoid inflation of food and basic products, has been one of the main elements that sparked off shortage in Venezuela. Contrary to expectations, these controls have triggered inflation, thus making the profitability of some industrial operations unviable.
There is an additional ingredient: the lack of dollars to import raw material has brought about the progressive reduction of brands and presentations of products, some of which have actually disappeared.
The fall of oil prices has intensified the situation over the past months.
Henry Rizo owns a Smart Stop (a space similar to a newsstand and candy store). He has had to make adjustments in order to face the situation.
When analyzing his business, Rizo says that “magazines were one of the utmost products, but the number of copies has been considerably decreased due to the lack of paper. As for candies, if you can’t find a big chocolate, you get a small one. The people keep on buying.”
There is actually a problem in that segment: “Nestlé is our main supplier and it didn’t even deliver a 10 percent of what we needed in 2014. That’s the reason why, in order to stay on business, we have had to buy Nestlé’s products to retailers offering higher prices. The final goal is having the product and being a well-assorted store. Your prices have to be higher, in spite of the complaints of customers”, Rizo explained.
The alternatives to survive are valid, even if you have to join forces with the competitors. That’s the case of Luis Enrique Lobo, owner of an autoperiquitos (a spare parts store) located in Santa Teresa del Tuy. “We have to work with our competitors to trade our merchandise and get what we need; for instance, synthetic oil for mineral oil for transportation. If the stores in the area are selling a product I have, but I don’t move it, we trade products”.
Likewise, he pointed out that “the partners have had to make arrangements to face the shortage: we now go directly to get the merchandise, we visit our suppliers to get what we need.”
Lobo explained that the lack of oil for vehicles made them study the quality of the products they are acquiring and the possibility to use them without damaging the cars. “In Venezuela, there is mineral, semi-synthetic and synthetic oil, but since you cannot sell what the client is looking for, we have studied the viscosity of the oils and realized that you can use oil types different from the one specified by the car manufacturer, combined with additional additives. That was not a regular practice, but it works and our competitors are doing the same.”
Just like Lobo and Rizo, schools are asking fathers and representatives to take the toilet paper to be used by the students, due to the lack of that product. And dry cleaners are using dishwashers to wash the cloth because they are shy of detergent.