This Country Is So Screwed Up That 123,000 People Travel 10-Hour To Buy Food

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Jul 19 2016
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Roughly 35,000 crossed the border on Saturday. Another 88,000 did the same on Sunday. Some had travelled in chartered buses from cities 10 hours away. Their mission: to buy food. What they have back home in their apartment is a fridge covered with souvenir magnets from vacations abroad, but no food.


So when the Venezuelan government opened the long-closed border with Colombia this weekend, more than 100,000 Venezuelans trudging across what Colombian officials are calling a “humanitarian corridor” to buy as many basic goods as possible. Venezuela’s government closed all crossings a year ago to crack down on smuggling along the 1,378-mile (2,219 kilometres) border.

Venezuelans Crossing the Simón Bolívar Bridge Into Colombia

Ever since the global crude oil prices plunge, Venezuela is not the same wealthy oil-producer country anymore. Under its former socialist autocratic leader, Hugo Chávez, the country severed ties with the IMF nearly a decade ago and hasn’t tried to restore relations with the world’s emergency lender.


Stubbornly, Venezuela extends its declared state of economic emergency, and has even handed over control of food stocks to the military. But that doesn’t help the internal crisis of shortage of food and medical supplies. Consumer-price inflation is forecast to hit 480% this year, although some said it has already hit 700%, and top 1,640% in 2017.

Venezuela - Inflation Rate - 2010 to 2019 Chart

Inflation is so bad that the government has had to order bolivars, Venezuela currency notes, by the planeload. President Nicolas Maduro closed the border with Colombia a year ago, complained that speculators were causing shortages by buying up subsidized food and gasoline in Venezuela and taking them to Colombia, where they could be sold for far higher prices.


Incompetence but arrogant, the Venezuela president pointed fingers at his government’s political enemies and smugglers for shortages instead. But shortages have continued to skyrocket in Venezuela, thanks to currency controls that have restricted imports and investment, not to mention the world oil price slump that caused a collapse in the oil revenues that fund government spending.

Food Haven – Venezuelans Shopping for Food in Colombia

When the news broke that “humanitarian corridor” is to be opened, Venezuelans decided to drain what remained of the savings they put away before the country spun into economic crisis and drove into Colombia to stock up on food. Colombian authorities said the mad rush on products like sugar and flour had led to extra supplies of staple goods being sent from other Colombian cities.


Colombian officials dressed in white shirts individually welcomed those arriving while police handed out cake and blasted out festive vallenato tunes, the traditional music beloved on both sides of the border. No one checked ID cards. And they have every reason to be super-friendly with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans crossing the border to do shopping.

Mad Rush for Food by Venezuelans - Colombian Authorities Maintaining Orders

Goods aren’t cheap on the other side of the border. But while things were pricier than Venezuelan travellers had expected, they were cheaper than in shortage-hit Venezuela, and they were definitely at a steep discount from what they cost on the black market back home. Most importantly, they were available at the mall supermarket.


Ramiro Ramirez, 37, and Tebie Gonzalez, 36, were one of thousands of Venezuelan couples who took the long journey to buy essential food. “I thought the crossing would be easier. It made me feel so humiliated, like I was an animal; a refugee. But look how different things are on this side. It’s like Disneyland” – they said.

Mission Accomplished – Tired but Loaded with Goods

It was a tiring and challenging journey. But it was worthwhile when what seemed to be treasures in Venezuela are normal stuffs in Colombia – rice, grains, toilet paper, toothpaste, sugar, detergent, pasta, flour, cooking oil, watches, handbags and whatnot. For the good business they have brought, the Colombian soldiers shook hands with the departing Venezuelans and wished them well.


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