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Venezuela

Contradictions Of Caracas: Supermarket Shortages, Busy Restaurants

If urban traffic jams and bustling restaurants are symptom of prosperity, long lines outside shops indicate a distorted, depressed economy. This is the current face of Venezuela's capital.

Queuing up in Caracas
Queuing up in Caracas
Anne Proenza

-OpEd-

CARACAS— This is not a city of traffic jams, but of queues. Until recently, residents of the Venezuelan capital, your average car-congested megalopolis, understood "queue" to mean "car queue" — as in, a line of vehicles moving slowly because of traffic gridlock. Now they also understand them to mean long lines of people, usually outside shops and pharmacies. These are the queues that everyone in Caracas is talking about now.

These queues can emerge on any street corner, and people aren't always sure why they join them. It's to buy something, anything. Some fear that something — anything — could run out, while others spot a queue and see a business opportunity.

Venezuelans of all political colors are irate with queues by now, whether they explain them as being the result of hoarding, shortages, speculation or corruption, and regardless of who they blame, either the government or the opposition and its "economic war" and "psychological manipulation." They can all agree that it's not normal to have to queue for toilet paper in a country sitting atop a sea of crude oil.

In state supermarkets where products are subsidized, authorities sought to regulate these lines, sometimes hundreds of people long, with a kind of "alternate" system. Your shopping days would thus depend on your ID number. State officials have also denounced "compulsive buying" and told people about "rational" consumption. That is: Buy what you need, preferably fruit and vegetables of which there is no shortage. There are also queues outside private supermarkets, of different lengths, depending on the day.

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Empty store shelves in a Venezuelan store. — Photo: ZiaLater

Some shops have chicken on days when it is rumored there is none to be had anywhere else in the capital. Or people may have to line up for soap outside drugstores, when there is no queue inside if you want toothpaste, which fills the shelves...! And nobody, except maybe a tourist, dares to ask for aspirin, which has been unavailable for some time now.

Yet the majority of restaurants are full of customers and have rich and varied menus. Shopping centers are not as well stocked as in Bogota, in neighboring Colombia, but they're not exactly deserted either. And what's not lacking is money, and therein lie the greatest distortions in the Venezuelan economy. There are widely varying exchange rates for the dollar, which can cost between 6.3 (at the official rate) and 180 bolivars. And the annual inflation rate exceeds 60%.

At the end of the day, what's most notable are not so much the queues formed with utmost patience by most Venezuelans, but the craziness provoked by attempts to fix the price of a good or service. And this in an economy that has become inherently corrupting and pushes most people to live by any means they can, even through queuing.

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Geopolitics

One By One, The Former Soviet Republics Are Abandoning Putin

From Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Tajikistan, countries in Russia's orbit have refused to help him turn the tide in the Ukraine war. All (maybe even Belarus?) is coming to understand that his next step would be a complete restoration of the Soviet empire.

Leaders of Armenia, Russia, Tajikistan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan attend a summit marking the 30th anniversary of signing the Collective Security Treaty in Moscow on May 16.

Oleksandr Demchenko

-Analysis-

KYIV — Virtually all of Vladimir Putin's last remaining partner countries in the region are gone from his grip. Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan have refused to help him turn the tide in the Ukraine war, because they've all come to understand that his next step would be a complete restoration of the empire, where their own sovereignty is lost.

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Before zooming in on the current state of relations in the region, and what it means for Ukraine's destiny, it's worth briefly reviewing the last 30 years of post-Soviet history.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was first created in 1992 by the Kremlin to keep former republics from fully seceding from the former Soviet sphere of influence. The plan was simple: to destroy the local Communist elite, to replace them with "their" people in the former colonies, and then return these territories — never truly considered as independent states by any Russian leadership — into its orbit.

In a word - to restore the USSR.

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