World Economy

Venezuela Economic Disaster Worsens

Venezuela Economic Disaster WorsensVenezuela Economic Disaster Worsens

The people waiting for hours in front of the drugstore were dazed with heat and boredom when the gunmen arrived.

The robbers demanded a cellphone from a 25-year-old man. Instead of handing it over, Junior Perez took off toward the entrance to the pharmacy. Eight shots rang out, and he fell face down, AP reported.

The dozens of shoppers in line were unmoved. They held their places as the gunmen went through Perez’s pockets. And when their turns came, each bought the two tubes of rationed toothpaste they were allowed.

As Venezuela’s lines have grown longer and more dangerous, they have become not only the stage for everyday life, but a backdrop to death. More than two dozen people have been killed in line in the past 12 months.

The extent of the country’s economic collapse can be measured in the length of the lines snaking through every neighborhood. The average Venezuelan shopper spends 35 hours waiting to buy food each month. That’s three times more than in 2014, according to the polling firm Datanalisis.

Venezuela’s vast oil wealth once fueled a bustling economy. But years of mismanagement under a socialist government ground much of the nation’s production to a halt, and the country grew ever more dependent on imports.

The supply chain broke down—first slowly, then all at once, as a steep drop in the price of oil left no money to pay for even some of the most basic necessities.

Shortages now top voters’ lists of concerns, surpassing even safety.

On Fridays, bank lines grow long because ATM limits capped at $8 daily have not kept up with the world’s highest inflation, and the machines are not restocked on Saturdays or Sundays. Venezuelans now mostly avoid using cash, and even sidewalk orange juice peddlers have acquired credit card machines.

The longest lines are for what is in the shortest supply: food.

Nine out of 10 people say they can’t buy enough to eat, according to a study by Simon Bolivar University. Prices have been driven impossibly high by scarcity, hoarding and black market resellers.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Venezuelans streamed across bridges into Colombia over the weekend after Venezuela briefly lifted a year-old border closure to allow people to buy food and medicine.

Colombian authorities said 35,000 Venezuelans made the trip Sunday during the 12-hour border opening.

Magola Penaranda, 60, said she and her two daughters and a grandchild lined up at 6am for the chance to cross into Colombia. She said she spent about $25—nearly two months earnings at the minimum wage—buying items like toilet paper and soap that she hasn’t seen for months.