Years of crippling socialist policies have left Venezuela so bereft of food, average Venezuelans must spent up to six hours waiting in line to received their allotted rations of basic goods like vegetable oil, flour, or milk. Musician Jonathan Acosta has offered to help ease the frustration by visiting supermarkets and performing for those waiting in line.
Acosta, from the Venezuelan state of Lara, has so far only made local appearances, singing songs of hope and offering hugs to those waiting patiently in line. He has launched a hashtag campaign called #ÁnimoVenezuela, or #EnergyVenezuela, looking to inspire hope in those looking to improve their daily life situation, and hopes to visit the capital, Caracas, with his music soon.
“There is a need to bring a message of hope and a song of encouragement before the struggle Venezuelans live through today… let’s go and give these people some energy,” Acosta says he thought when first launching the project in an interview. Acosta is a licensed attorney by day but has always enjoyed performing music, and he says he has found that engaging Venezuelans with music has a positive emotional effect on those spending hours on supermarket lines in order to feed their children.
He notes his effort is bipartisan, and he has rejected overtures from the government of socialist president Nicolás Maduro to perform at government functions. He steadfastly refuses to participate in politics. This, he admits, has resulted in infuriated Venezuelans waiting on lines complaining that Acosta’s singing does nothing to solve the shortages facing the oil-rich nation.
“There are people who have told us our songs are pretty, but why haven’t we brought any rice or sugar,” he admitted. “I tried to shake a man’s hand once and the man refused. I finally decided to hug him and when he received the hug, he cried,” Acosta says. He has insisted that his music is an attempt to stunt any emotional paralysis that may occur from ongoing suffering.
Supermarket lines lasting from four to six hours have been the norm in Venezuela for at least two years, since President Maduro took over the nation following the death of dictator Hugo Chávez. To combat inflation when the nation’s inflation rate was 60 percent, Maduro implemented a ration card system that prohibited families from buying the food they deemed necessary for their families, instead imposing a government standard. Venezuela has ceased officially documenting its inflation rate, but experts estimate it to current be near 800 percent.
The supermarket lines have spawned their own industry: professional “line-sitters” who will wait in line for their clients for a price, usually about $100. The line-sitters offer the added service of monitoring local supermarkets to keep track of what products can be found where. “Sometimes we will find milk, sugar, or coffee in one place, but flour, rice, diapers, or shampoo in another,” one line professional told AFP in January 2015. That same month, police began to enforce new regulations preventing Venezuelans from using cameras or phones to take photos of the alarmingly empty shelves in their supermarkets.
Maduro has proposed to Venezuelans living in urban centers that the solution to the ongoing supermarket crisis is to avoid the supermarket entirely and grow one’s own food. “[First Lady] Cilia [Flores] and I have 50 egg-laying chickens, and all the yolks we eat, we produce,” Maduro told an audience in January.
A month later, Venezuela’s legislature declared a national food emergency, proclaiming it had officially run out of food.
Maduro’s inability to manage the economy has outraged Chavistas as much as his anti-socialist adversaries. Socialist Tide, an alternative left-wing party in the country, has called for Maduro to resign, as have a number of soldiers who are considered by the Maduro government national heroes for participating in a failed coup against Venezuela’s last democratically-elected government, an attempt to lodge Hugo Chávez in power.
On Monday, the National Assembly announced a campaign to remove Maduro from power, noting that legislators will use “all mechanisms” available constitutionally to oust him, including a national referendum or constitutional amendment for removal. “Change is coming and no one can stop it,” the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) party said in a statement.