Shortage of basic products in Venezuela creates new "jobs"

By Daniela Castro Molina

Caracas, Feb 26 (EFE).- The shortage of food, medicines, household goods and personal hygiene products that Venezuela has suffered for several years has created new "jobs" in this country for those who profit from the crisis by speculating on it.

Citizens known as "bachaqueros" (named for the fat ant species known as "bachacos") purchase products at the subsidized "fair price" established by the government, only to resell them at a much higher price on the black market.

At times bachaqueros resell products at prices 10 times higher than the regulated prices. Cornflour, the prime ingredient of Venezuela's tasty arepas, valued at 20 bolivars (10 cents), is sold on the black market for as much as 500 bolivars ($2.50).

According to a survey by pollster Datanalisis, 60 percent of citizens who form long lines outside markets are dedicated to the resale of regulated products, an activity penalized with fines and up to three years in jail.

"The activities of bachaqueros is illegal but having people go hungry should also be illegal," EFE was told by a woman who asked to remain anonymous, and who for the past year has distributed basic products to the offices where she works as a cleaning lady.

She said that her activity, which earns her three times more than for her formal employment, doesn't hurt anyone - "to the contrary, the buyers get to eat because I bring them milk, sugar...they can't get away from their jobs to stand in line," she said.

Almost as a ritual, she goes before dawn Mondays and Saturdays to make her purchases. On those days of the week, people like her with ID card numbers ending in zero can make their purchases, according to a government regulation aimed at ending "the contraband and hoarding" by those they blame for all the scarcities.

To sidestep the regulations backed up by fingerprint-reading machines that identify the shopper so as to keep the individual from buying the same kind of product twice during the same week, some people carry forged ID cards.

"Those who have several IDs can buy on different days, but I can't," Maria said.

Desperate, some consumers resort to "home-delivery bachaqueros" like Maria, to street vendors with improvised businesses who are exposed to detention and the seizure of their goods by the authorities, and even to "bachaqueros 2.0," as the government calls those who resell goods on the Internet.

Officials in Puerto Cabello, a town in the central state of Carabobo, by pretending to be customers were able to locate and detain people peddling regulated goods online and penalized them with days of community service.