The critical situation that Venezuelans have been living with for quite a while now is no secret to anyone. In the last months, we have seen in the news and particularly through social networks (due to media censorship) how a country that in theory is rich or at least it was rich, is being submerged in a series of tragic incidents. Venezuela has seen violence, student protesters, insecurity in the streets, political repression, hyperinflation (currently the highest inflation in the world) and now product shortages which have led to endless lines in supermarkets.
This shortage is mainly due to price control that the government has imposed on some essential items which they have dubbed: “Fair Price Law”. The government has set a maximum retail price for certain products which has created greater demand than supply which includes essential items. This shortage is estimated to be anywhere from 22% to 40% leading to waits that last for hours.
The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, made a list of the top 10 products most scarce in the country:
2. Corn flour *Main ingredient to prepare arepas, traditional Venezuelan food
4. Plane tickets
8. Corn oil
10. Toilet paper
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine not having access to most of the items on this list at the local grocery store or corner shop.
Many people are waking up at 4am to wait for six hours in line after line. The lines start from several miles away to the supermarket doors, then again to retrieve a shopping cart, a line to pay that winds almost 500 feet, and finally a line to have items checked against receipts before exiting.
In this article from the BBC (Spanish article), Venezuelans say:
“You have a line for everything. We are used to wait in line”
For many, the line now seems invariably a part of life. The line mentality has lead to stockpiling. Purchasing unnecessary items out of fear of shortage has lead to greater scarcity and when a Venezuelan sees a queue, especially a food line, s/he immediately joins in the hopes that something good is being sold and out of fear of wasted opportunities. Often items are grabbed by shoppers before they have even had time to be unboxed and stocked.
In response, people have created different ways of communications through social networks, text messages and chat services to report what is left, where and when.
Resignation with lines has given Venezuelans more patience but many are motivated to find ways to “shorten” long waits in line. Those who can pay to skip lines. Others are tagged on their arm to note their place in line.
The lines in Venezuela are indicative of greater issues and deeply impacts the ways that citizens behave. It’s shaping the culture, expectations, and behavior of the people in many ways that perpetuate the difficulties that they already face. Generally, it is not the line that is the problem as much as the factors that go into creating those lines. In cases such as these, queue management can only do so much where overall reform is needed.