Even an improvised dollar economy is not entirely immune to hyperinflation. Prices are still going up, and now that they are set in dollars they are even higher. This makes it difficult for many Venezuelans to afford everyday items. Dilmary Rivas, a neighbor of Ms. Aguilar, earns the equivalent of $ 120 a month as a housewife. Three years ago, that income was enough to buy groceries for three months – if she was lucky enough to find it after standing for hours. Today their weekly wages only provide for the bare minimum: sugar, coffee, milk, cornmeal, cheese, cooking oil. Basic foods are no longer scarce, but they are so expensive that other necessities such as clothing and toiletries have become luxuries.
“If I buy a pair of socks, I can’t buy eggs,” said Ms. Rivas. “It’s like trading one problem for another.”
The Venezuela of Hugo Chávez’s declared socialism – with food subsidies that initially helped the poor but soon led to chronic scarcity – is slowly giving way to Mr. Maduro’s tropical type of arbitrary capitalism, in which two currencies are at odds with one another. There is economic liberalization, but also repression, price distortions and inequality. And paradoxically, the dollar economy is helping Maduro stay in power by providing a lifeline for the economy to endure crippling US sanctions and ongoing inflation.
For all Venezuelans to benefit from a dollar economy, the country would have to adopt the dollar as the sole currency through an agreement between its central bank and the US Federal Reserve. But for these and other profound economic reforms to take place, US sanctions must be lifted.
Given the political stalemate between Maduro, a president not recognized by the United States, and Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, that is next to impossible recognized by Washington as interim president, however who struggles to stay relevant. With another round of negotiations in Mexico, the Venezuelans could make progress if the two heads of state and government can agree on a timetable for free and fair elections.
In the meantime, Venezuelans are doomed to continue to find unconventional ways to live in the often absurd salad economy.
Virginia López Glass is a Venezuelan journalist. From 2015 to 2017 she was Senior Correspondent for Al Jazeera English.