Waiting in long lines has become a daily reality as Venezuela faces food shortages
A mother says she's waited more than 12 hours to get groceries
"What's finishing us off? Hunger," one woman says
It should have been a day to celebrate.
Nearly everyone in Venezuela had the day off Sunday for Workers’ Day – and to sweeten it, the government gave workers a 30% increase in the minimum wage.
Venezuelan state television broadcast images of people marching in Caracas, waving signs supporting President Nicolas Maduro in their emblematic red garb.
But the pay hike isn’t as good as it sounds.
According to the International Monetary Fund, inflation in Venezuela is projected to increase 481% this year and by a staggering 1,642% next year. The rise in the minimum wage will mean nothing in just a few weeks.
So on May Day, the annual holiday honoring the country’s workers, people on the streets of Caracas seemed anxious.
It was pouring rain – not usually the kind of weather for walking. But Julian Perez came to the city’s commercial center prepared to get in line.
That’s how Venezuelans spend most of their time now – waiting not for luxuries but basic goods.
It wasn’t long before Perez walked toward a subway station soaked and empty-handed.
Sunday was one of two days when he’s is allowed to buy staples at government supermarkets, where a rationing system has been put in place determined by the final digit of his personal ID.
But when Perez and others arrived, expecting to see the usual lines that form at government stores, they found they were shut tight for the national holiday. Most of the private-owned supermarket chains were also closed.
“My ID ends in 9. I can only come back here on Friday now,” Perez said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it though. It’s impossible.”
At home, Perez said, his shelves are bare.
“I was going to buy flour, rice, all the basics I have been needing for weeks – and now, I leave with nothing,” he said.
‘We are hungry’
The rations system was put in place by Maduro’s government after dropping oil prices led to major deficits, which the government countered by printing money. The result: extreme inflation, making imports of basic goods unaffordable.
The goal, officials have said, is to give people access to price-controlled food that’s much cheaper than it would be in a private store.
On Monday, the rain had stopped and the stores were open, but that didn’t make the people waiting more optimistic.
“We are hungry,” Zulay Urbina told CNN as she stood outside one of the government stores. “We have needs. We have no food. Look at this line here – mothers who are hungry and have needs. We need food and medicine. We can’t find anything. What’s finishing us off? Hunger.”
For Leidys Nanez, a mother of two who is six months’ pregnant, the situation is dire. She lives in one of the barrios, the country’s favelas, where she said she has had no access to basics such as milk or rice for weeks, and where she has to wait up to 12 hours in line at her local store.
There are only a few items inside her refrigerator – and no milk for her two small children.
“When I can find it,” she said, “they drink it.”
‘She can’t get the care she needs’
The rationing and shortages go beyond food and have now extended to basic medical care.
For Yasdey Bolivar, who underwent a double mastectomy in December and was subsequently diagnosed with skin cancer, the lack of access to chemo has put her life at risk.
“It pains me to see Venezuela is the state that it’s in right now,” Bolivar said, sitting on her porch in a suburb near Caracas. “But what really makes my heart ache is the thought of not being here for my daughter tomorrow.”
Due to the high costs of her treatments, Bolivar and her 9-year-old daughter, Alejandra, moved back in with her parents.
Her mother, Janette de Bolivar, a social worker, said she fears her daughter may be running out of options.
“Her condition requires her to follow a certain diet, and we can’t get the food we need. She needs medicine and treatment, and she can’t get the care she needs,” the mother said, fighting back tears. “What can we do in order to make the government understand that Venezuelans are dying?”
Maduro said capitalism and corruption have caused the health system to become compromised.
In a recent televised speech, he said an “internal mafia” in the public health system was falsifying prescriptions and stealing medicines to be sold on the black market.
For Bolivar and her family, all she is looking for is a solution – fast.
“Cancer waits for no one,” she said. “I am so worried about my health and the health of so many people who are going through this now.”