The Nightmare Of Grocery Shopping In Venezuela : Parallels Venezuela's economic model has imploded. With food production, import and distribution now controlled by the government, shelves are bare. A day's hunt for groceries in Caracas can prove futile.
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The Nightmare Of Grocery Shopping In Venezuela

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The Nightmare Of Grocery Shopping In Venezuela

The Nightmare Of Grocery Shopping In Venezuela

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We go now to Venezuela, which will have legislative elections next month. And the ruling Socialist Party there is expected to take a beating. That's in part because of food shortages and complicated rules about when and where people can buy things. The shortages and the rules have made grocery shopping in Venezuela a nightmare. John Otis reports.

ANNY VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

YOSSMY BENAVENTI: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: For Caracas housewife Anny Valero, today is grocery day whether she likes it or not. Here's why. In Venezuela, government supermarkets sell price-controlled food, making them far cheaper than private stores.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: But Valero explains that people are allowed in state-run supermarkets just two days per week based on their ID card numbers. The system is designed to prevent shoppers from buying more than they need, then reselling goods on the black market at a huge markup. It's Monday, and if Valero doesn't go now, she'll have to wait four more days to buy food.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Valero says goodbye to her 7- and 9-year-old daughters. They will skip school and stay home alone in a Caracas slum with the door locked. That's because Valero sometimes spends all day standing in line at grocery stores and can't pick up the girls after class.

JEREMY: (Cooing).

OTIS: Valero brings along Jeremy, her 6-month-old son. We're also joined by her husband, Yossmy Benaventi. He's skipping work at an auto repair shop to help look after the baby and ward off thieves who snatch people's grocery bags.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVENTI: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: We stop at a state-run store. There are no lines outside, but that often means there's not much food left. Inside, the meat department is a barren landscape.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "There's just unplugged display case, flies and a bad odor," Valero says. She settles for three cans of sardines. She also finds diapers for Jeremy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: But checkout is like clearing customs in a hostile foreign country. The clerk scrutinizes Valero's ID card and tells her hold her index finger over a fingerprint scanner.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

VALERO: OK.

OTIS: The clerk then informs her that due to rationing, she can buy just two of the three cans of sardines.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Finally, Valero and Benaventi must produce Jeremy's birth certificate to prove the baby is theirs and that they really do need the diapers.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "This is such a waste of time, and we have to do it every week," Valero says. "My husband risks losing his job because he's here with me shopping. And on top of that, we can only buy two of each item."

The final bill is the equivalent of less than a dollar, but that's part of Venezuela's scarcity problem. Economists say price controls make it unprofitable for farms and businesses to produce goods. Falling oil prices mean Venezuela has less money to import food. President Nicolas Maduro also blames smugglers who resell cheap Venezuelan goods in neighboring Colombia. In August, he closed the border.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: But Valero blames the government and plans to vote for the opposition in the December elections.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Another frustration is that the shopping controls don't seem to work. On the street, we meet black-market vendors hawking eggs, chicken and five kinds of fish. But buying just a few pounds of beef or tuna would eat up one quarter of Benaventi's monthly salary.

VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Back home, the girls are fine. But the only food Valero's brought back is the sardines. Her family will have leftovers tonight and rely on their dwindling supply of rice and pasta over the next few days. Then Valero will attempt another grocery run with her husband missing work and the girls skipping school. For NPR News, I'm John Otis, Caracas, Venezuela.

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