Simultaneous efforts by the Venezuelan government to force unreasonable price controls on vendors of necessary goods and arrest any who sell those goods on the black market has led to the rise of a unique phenomenon known as the “street market,” in which Caracas vendors wait for police to pass before selling whatever items they could get their hands on the day before.
In an extensive report, The Washington Post describes these markets as “anti-Targets”: the items are unpredictable, entirely unorganized, and dependent on whatever the government has mandated be rationed that month. While the usual suspects–oil, eggs, flour–are often supplied, so, too, have goods like laundry detergent and deodorant become popular among vendors.
The vendors are often store owners who cannot afford to follow the legal means to sell their products–means by which customers are limited in how much they can buy, and vendors are prohibited from selling at any reasonable retail price. Customers are happy to oblige and pay full price for products if they can buy an unlimited supply–and if they can find the products at all.
Last month, President Maduro announced a crackdown on these street markets, as they had begun to open in plain view of authorities and in full defiance of Maduro’s attempts at controlling the market. He couched this crackdown in the claim that the products are being sold on the black market for more money in Colombia–whose economy is thriving and has no such need for a black market–and accuses Colombians of waging “economic war” (alongside the United States “empire,” of course) against Venezuela.
Speaking to the vendors as “members of the informal economy,” Maduro announced an end to their public sales, claiming, “To you in the informal economy, the Bolivarian government has supported, dignified, and protected you, as well as respected you.” Within the same minute, he accused the same people of “thievery” for selling products at full price.
The vendors themselves tell The Washington Post they have no intention of stealing from anyone, especially those who willingly support their sales with purchases. “I have six kids and two grandchildren,” explained one woman selling Downy detergent on the street. “I’m just trying to survive.”
In addition to the crackdown, Maduro has long taken a bread-and-circuses approach to attempting to mask the readily apparent failures of his administration. Last November, he declared that Christmas had “come early” to Venezuela and released his own socialist “Christmas carols” about how great a leader he is. Also, at the peak of protests against the arrest of opposition party leader Leopoldo López last year, Maduro staged a carnival.
This year, as Maduro denies the Venezuelan people access to eggs, oil, and milk, he has unveiled the “socialist Barbie” as a distraction. Socialist Barbie is a standard Mattel Barbie doll sold at one-tenth the price. (Ignore the imperialist implications of promoting an American product.) The government price decree is ravaging toy vendors in Caracas and elsewhere, and it is apparently doing little to assuage the anger at the Venezuelan government for turning the OPEC nation into an impoverished country–so poor, it is reduced to rationing water.