The lines outside Venezuelan supermarkets can stretch for hours, snaking down sidewalks and right-angling around corners. Each one is like a hissing fuse. Will they explode?
Venezuela withers away a little more each week. Another food staple or medicine or industrial part goes missing, bringing the breaking point closer. The national guard troops policing the supermarket lines grip their riot shields and truncheons tighter, looking ever more jittery.
It all is a waiting game. The government of President Nicolás Maduro is waiting for a rise in oil prices to save it from catastrophe. It is waiting for rainfall to rescue its hydroelectric plants and end the rotating blackouts that have cut the work week for state employees from five days to two. The government is holding on to hopes of another loan from China, or any other creditor willing to lend it a little breathing room.
The government knows it better put something on the supermarket shelves for Venezuelans to wait for.
Venezuela’s political opposition is also watching the fuse, and sometimes trying to fan it, but its street protests look small beside the food lines. The opposition took control of parliament in December, but that didn’t matter. Maduro disregards their laws, their votes, their condemnations and warnings. They’re bystanders too, for the most part. For how much longer?
The waiting game goes on. Venezuela’s neighbors are playing it, too, wondering if the crash can be softened and how far it may ripple. U.S. officials think the end is close. But all manner of experts and outsiders have been saying that about Venezuela for a while now, and the lines just get longer.
The weariness looks like exhaustion in these images from Venezuelan photographerAlejandro Cegarra. His pictures show the Caracas park where he played as a kid, now in ruins, and a nearby McDonald’s, empty of customers because runaway inflation means a Happy Meal costs nearly a third of an average monthly wage.
There is no shortage of street crime and violence in this dystopia. While Cegarra found plenty of battle-clad guardsman to keep the supermarket lines in formation, the cop in a nearby park was a cardboard cutout.
Venezuela is running on an empty tank. The government can’t stop the slide, and the opposition can’t stop the government. All that’s left to do is wait until something gives.