The Economy of the Venezuelan "Bodegones"

“The phenomenon of bodegones* is the most visible expression, but not the only one, of the economy of money laundering,” says the author. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel Henrique Otero, Madrid | 8 February 2020 — The increase of bodegones* in some cities of Venezuela — convenience stores supplied with food and a wide variety of other personal and home items, all imported — during 2019, is being used by the propagandists of Maduro´s regime, as evidence that a sort of return to normality is taking place in the country.

The display of videos showing shelves and refrigerators full of products also leads to a false conclusion: if the market offers so much merchandise of the best quality, then it is possible to assume that basic goods must also be available for the primary needs of Venezuelan families.

All these premises are profoundly distorted. On the contrary: the phenomenon of the bodegon is the most polished expression of the model to which Maduro’s regime aspires: a state of affairs whose foundation is the most extreme inequality.

A society divided in two: an immense majority dependent on the food packages sold by the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP for its acronym in Spanish), (which, during the same year 2019 with the boom of the bodegones, made deliveries of fewer and fewer products, products that were of the worst quality), which translated into a subdued majority, dependent upon the commissioners that the power and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV for its acronym in Spanish) have distributed all across the country.

And then a minority, below 1% of the population, that has unlimited purchasing power at these bodegones. I am talking about people who can pay $8 or $9 for half-kg of pasta, $25 for 300 grams of Dutch cheese, $45 for a package of Danish cookies, $150 for a 225-gram tray of serrano ham, $500 dollars for a prime cut of meat of almost 3 kg.

These prices have no relation whatsoever, neither to the costs of production, nor to the commercial operation of taking them to Venezuela. Why does the regime facilitate the existence of these bodegones where prices are absolutely disproportionate? This is due to the chain of corruption that stands between the seller of the merchandise at the point of origin, and the resigned customer who gets to the cashier and pays a deranged amount, knowing that the product is not worth it. Between these two ends, there are the hidden costs of corruption, the numerous procedures and sales taxes that traders must go through, impacting the final price of the product in a simply grotesque way.

But this economy of bodegones is not an isolated event. Vehicles for more than one hundred thousand dollars, nightclubs where you pay 50 dollars for a drink, restaurants where the cost per guest exceeds 300 dollars. All this not only contributes to build this fable, but also leads us to the mandatory question: Where are the dollars that make possible these settlements coming from? Because they are no more than that: settlements, minimum settlements — serving less than 1% of the Venezuelan population

The first thing to remember is the most obvious: Venezuela, which has been an essential and exclusively oil economy, is less and less so. Chavez and Maduro have destroyed what was the third largest company in the world, and dismantled it to the point where it is today: every day more unproductive, every day closer to massive and irreversible collapse.

However, between Chavez and Maduro there is a substantial difference: while the former dedicated himself to using oil rent for his political purposes: buying diplomatic wills in the hemisphere, illegally financing related politicians in Latin America and Europe, corrupting politicians and institutions within and outside Venezuela, which prevented PDVSA from complying with the most basic of its requirements — reinvestment in maintenance and new production — Maduro has changed that policy: He has turned Venezuela into a money laundering economy.

The phenomenon of the bodegon is the most visible expression, but not the only one, of the economy of money laundering. Also, but to a much lesser extent, the economy of remittances; because what once was the fourth largest economy of the continent, has been reduced to this: a country that is sustained by legitimizing capital and receiving remittances.

Money is being laundered from the illegal and destructive extraction from various minerals from the Amazon, an operation that has the Colombian guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN for its acronym in Spanish) as its main partner and foreman. Money is being laundered from the shameless smuggling of fuels, wood and exotic species of our fauna.

Large amounts of dollars and euros are being laundered as benefit from drug trafficking operations, not only cocaine, but also marijuana and heroin. Money is being laundered from payments made by terrorist groups in the Middle East, so that some of its members receive protection for long periods in Venezuelan territory.

Money is being laundered as a result of the illegal sale of oil in international waters, transactions that are made in cash and that seek to evade the sanctions of international organizations. Hard currencies, especially dollars, are being laundered from the numberless methods that corruption has developed in Venezuela, and now are encountering more difficulties to fly to other markets.

In conclusion, bodegones are not symptoms of well-being or economic prosperity. They are the coup de grace on the destruction of the country’s productive capacities, now replaced by a concentration of businesses and activities outside the law.

*Translator’s note: Bodegones is the common name given to convenience stores in Venezuela supplied with imported products that are not present in the convencional internal market and that are offered to the Venezuelan people in US dollars intead of Venezuelan Bolivars.

Editor’s note: Miguel Henrique Otero it the Managing Director of El Nacional Venezuelan newspaper.

Translated by: Francy Perez Perdomo


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