Queuing for a living

Queuing for a living


Unprecedented shortages of basic goods from milk to toilet paper in Venezuela’s ailing economy have given rise to a booming new profession: standing in line.

The job usually involves starting before dawn, enduring long hours under the sun, dodging or bribing police, and then selling a coveted spot at the front of huge shopping lines.

. CARACAS, Venezuela. Reuters/Jorge Silva

The shortages have worsened since a lull in distribution over the Christmas holidays, prompting many to wait on pavements from the early hours before shops open.

Queues have snaked around the block at supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies around the country, while there have also been scattered protests and arrests.

. CARACAS, Venezuela. Reuters/Jorge Silva

"It's boring but not a bad way to make a living," a 23-year-old man who only gave his first name Luis said as he held a spot near the front of a line of hundreds outside a state supermarket.

"There's a lady coming at 8 a.m for this place. She's paid in advance. I’ll have a break and then maybe start again,” he said.

. CARACAS, Venezuela. Reuters/Jorge Silva

The queuing phenomenon began about two years ago but accelerated suddenly this month as a Christmas and New Year distribution slowdown exacerbated existing shortages of the basics.

The government says the panic-buying has been driven by unfounded rumours, and governors in three Venezuelan states have banned nighttime queueing.

. MARACAIBO, Venezuela. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia

Elsewhere, there have been increasing restrictions on sales, with some people receiving stamps on their arms or only allowed to shop on a certain day depending on the number of their ID card.

Some families send elderly relatives to hold spots for them, while others take babies and use them as an excuse to jump to the front.

. CARACAS, Venezuela. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

To maintain order, armed National Guard troops have been deployed to the streets but frustration mounts quickly during hours-long waits in the heat.

"I've had enough," said Saray Linares, 27, who is pregnant with her fourth child and was outraged at being pushed during a crush at a supermarket counter. “It's horrible, savage, people running everywhere,” she said.

. CARACAS, Venezuela. Reuters/Jorge Silva

Foes of President Nicolas Maduro, and his predecessor Hugo Chavez who ruled from 1999-2013, say the lines symbolise the economic incompetence and inevitable scarcities of socialism.

The shortages have already weighed heavily on Maduro’s popularity, and state TV has begun a campaign urging Venezuelans to show confidence in their country and reduce the panic-buying.