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Socialism, Venezuela And The Art Of The Queue

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According to Daniel Pardo, citizens of Venezuela have figured out the fine art of queuing (that’s “waiting in line” for Americans.) It’s a good thing, too, since things like milk, sugar, soap, toilet paper and other essentials are always in short supply in this socialist country.

The government regulates the price of these goods. It doesn’t subsidise them – it tells the producer what they can charge. That might just about make sense in a buoyant economy but with inflation running at over sixty percent and the value of the currency plummeting, it appears producers are not only failing to make a profit but are operating at a loss. Similarly companies who export food to Venezuela have given up waiting to be paid by a government that’s down on its luck and are now selling their goods elsewhere.

Who is to blame? The U.S. and Europe, of course. The Venezuelan government says we are controlling big business, “waging an economic war” on the people of Venezuela while simultaneously trying to turn the citizens of that country against their government. Thus, long lines.

The queues, however, are an embarrassment for the Venezuelan government. They don’t want journalists poking around, asking too many questions.

[The government has] shopkeepers to move the queues underground, into basements and subterranean car parks – apparently to protect their customers from getting sunburnt. Journalists are prevented from filming empty shelves. Shoppers have also been given instructions. You can only buy scarce goods on certain days of the week depending on what number your ID card ends in. So, for example – if it ends in a zero or a one then you can stand in line on Monday. However that doesn’t necessarily mean that the milk or soap you want to buy will be available on Monday.

Pardo says the queues are generally calm – no pushing or shoving. The people of Venezuela accept them as part of their lives. In fact, one can easily get time off from work to go stand in line. A person will stand in line even if he doesn’t know what’s at the other end; he likely needs it, whatever it turns out to be. Pardo is noticing some changes in Venezuela’s citizenry and these queues:

It’s a surreal symbol of a system that’s broken – and frankly, makes little sense. Unsurprisingly people are angry and frustrated. On occasion this has meant that queues have degenerated into riots. And some shoppers have been robbed of their precious cargo while heading home.

If shoppers continue to believe the official line that this is caused by Venezuela’s enemies, then perhaps the government may be able to ride out the growing discontent.

Read “The surreal world of Venezuela’s queues” at BBC News.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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