Josefina Bravo’s garden is bursting from the walls. Baskets made from recycled bottles hang from a terrace and eggshells cover a palm’s spikes, protecting unsuspecting passers-by. Here Josefina grows mangos, spring onions, coriander, cocoa beans and other vegetables that she can get to thrive in the hot Caracas sun, part of an effort to circumvent shortages of food in Venezuela over the last two years.
“I think this is the way forward Hugo Chavez always said that. That we had to have vegetable patches at home,” she told teleSUR.
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Shopping for food is a twice weekly endeavor for Josefina. A mother of two and grandmother of six, she looks after her family while also volunteering for housing and health care missions in the Venezuelan capital. With four mouths to feed at home, she is one of the millions of Venezuelans acutely aware of the shortages of basic products, which the government says is part of a concerted effort by the opposition to create psychological distress in the country ahead of elections.
Milk, rice, coffee, pasta, rice, sugar, corn flour and cooking oil have all been in short supply, with corporations accused of manufacturing the shortage by hoarding the items or selling them abroad.
“They go for the things that the people look for the most, they know how to handle people,” said Josefina.
Now eggs have fallen victim into scarcity. As with other basic food items like chicken, the government began regulating the price of eggs after it skyrocketed. They then began to disappear from store shelves.
“The government regulated them, now, I don’t what happened, they killed all the chickens or something,” said Josefina. “I don’t know what they did, but now there are no eggs.”
One of the disconcerting aspects of the situation is that while milk disappears, dairy derivatives, like cheese and yogurt, pack the refrigerated sections of supermarkets.
Today Josefina has milk, but has to queue for it at the Mercal market, which sells food at low prices fixed by the government. She says that waiting in line “doesn’t matter to us.” One of the reasons for the scarcities is bachaqueo, the process of buying products at the low prices, and selling them for a chunky profit.
“It’s the people stealing from the people. Because if I buy something for 20 Bolivares I can’t sell it for 500. It’s illogical. I see a woman selling diapers, one pack of diapers which is regulated at 227, or something like that, because I buy them for my granddaughter. And they are selling packs of 20 diapers for 1,000 Bolivares.”
Josefina never buys from the bachaqueros—“not even coffee!”—but still manages to cope and provide a balanced diet for her family.
“If I want potassium, I eat an orange, not an expensive tomato,” she explained. “We eat yuca, we eat yuca bread, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, there are lots of things we can do. We can’t let ourselves be blackmailed by a single product. Because what they’re doing is blackmail.”
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And as individuals find ways to go about their lives, communities come together to avoid conventional vendors.
“This is a country that invents, it is a country where everything becomes a joke, a party. And that has helped a lot to cope with this,” economist Tony Boza told teleSUR.
“They have created an exchange mechanism,” he said. “Here the families barter: give me some sugar, I’ll change it for some beans.”
Furthermore, neighborhoods like 23 de Enero in Caracas are creating markets to fairly distribute food.
“The good thing about the crisis, the good and the bad,” said Boza, “is that it is pushing popular organization.”