What you need to know:
- Home to the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela has skidded into an economic catastrophe as global crude prices have collapsed.
- Protests have erupted in recent days when trucks loaded with food arrived at supermarkets only for police to commandeer the delivery for the Claps.
Mayra de Ramos stood in line all day to buy two packs of corn flour and pasta, but the Venezuelan grandmother says it is not enough.
She lives with her three children and three grandchildren in Catia, a downtrodden Caracas neighbourhood.
“My refrigerator is bare,” the 64-year-old pensioner says, showing its empty shelves.
“We don’t eat three meals a day. We have breakfast late and lunch late and that’s it. There’s not enough milk. We give the kids ‘fororo’ (an inexpensive flour-based cereal) to get them to sleep.”
Her daughter was the one standing in line at the supermarket that day because the last number on her ID card was selected under the government’s rationing programme. Ramos went the day before.
“It was incredible,” she says. “I had to wait in line all day. Sometimes we came away empty-handed.”
Home to the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela has skidded into an economic catastrophe as global crude prices have collapsed.
The country that depends on oil for 96 per cent of its trade revenues is running out of cash to import the food, medicine and other basics.
The crisis has caused severe shortages and hyperinflation forecast to hit 700 per cent this year, threatening President Nicolas Maduro and the socialist economic model he inherited from his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Venezuelans line up at dawn or even overnight outside the nation’s supermarkets, guarded by heavily armed police officers to battle the growing problem of looting.
“My day-to-day is going out to stand in line, to see what I can find,” says Liliana Rojas, 44, a neighbour of Ramos’s whose family of eight includes four children.
“We eat breakfast and skip lunch. If we have lunch, we don’t eat dinner so the flour lasts two days.”
Rosa Gomez, a 38-year-old housewife, makes her way home in the densely packed Petare neighbourhood with two packs of corn flour, two chickens and three sticks of butter.
It’s getting dark, it’s raining and she’s visibly tired.
“I left home at 5 am and spent the whole day in line just to get this. We have to do it. If not, we don’t eat. I don’t have the money to buy on the black market,” she says.
Maduro’s government has launched a crackdown on black-market sellers who buy up subsidised products and sell them at a mark-up.
They are called “bachaqueros,” for a species of large ant. A pack of black-market flour costs more than 10 times the regulation price.
“Your salary’s just not enough,” Gomez says. “If you buy on the black market, it disappears like water.”
To fight corruption at state-run supermarkets and hoarding by shoppers, the government has launched a distribution plan to pass out bags of subsidised food through supply and production committees headed by community leaders. The acronym in Spanish is Clap.
“First come the Claps and then everyone else,” Maduro said. “That’s the order in line. All power to the Claps.”
Protests have erupted in recent days when trucks loaded with food arrived at supermarkets only for police to commandeer the delivery for the Claps.
And many Venezuelans complain those subsidised bags of rice, sugar, butter, oil and corn flour arrive only for a small portion of the population.