Venezuela supermarket lines swell as shoppers scramble to buy basics
By Alexandra Ulmer
CARACAS Jan 9 (Reuters) - Lines are swelling at Venezuelan supermarkets, with some shoppers showing up before dawn in search of products ranging from chicken to laundry detergent, as a holiday slowdown in deliveries sharpened the nation's nagging product shortages.
Queues snaked around the block at grocery stores and pharmacies around the country on Friday, with consumers in some cases gathering before dawn under the gaze of National Guard troops posted to maintain order.
Business leaders have assured Venezuelans the situation will improve in the coming days as distributors return from the often extended Christmas holidays, though many consumers blamed the socialist economic policies of President Nicolas Maduro.
"The truth is I don't know what the government is doing. It gets worse every day," said Elizio Velez, 65, a delivery man who arrived at 5 a.m. at a large supermarket on the east end of Caracas in search of chicken and toilet paper.
"This is insane, it's like the end of the world," he said, noting that troops had fired shots in the air as scuffles broke out in the line.
Venezuela's 12-year-old exchange control system has for several years struggled to provide enough hard currency to ensure adequate levels of imports, leading to intermittent shortages of raw materials, machine parts and consumer goods.
Maduro, who blames the situation on an opposition-led "economic war," said in December he was planning to make changes to that system, without offering details.
Grocery store lines in the border city of San Cristobal this week have started as early as 3 a.m. and continued until 10 p.m., while consumers in the coastal city of Punto Fijo have started sleeping in hammocks outside the main shopping mall. Continuación...