Faced with unprecedented scarcity of basic household goods, a growing number of Venezuelans are beginning to depend on shipments from their relatives and friends abroad to obtain basic products difficult to find in their supermarkets. The trend is prompting many South Florida residents to go to shipment agencies more frequently.
Companies specialized in shipping boxes to be delivered at people’s front doors in Venezuela say that boxes now carry products not usually sent to that country. Amazon books, spare parts for cars and electronic items are now being replaced with cans of tuna, rice packages, coffee, medicines and even bathing soap.
“I have just completed a full shopping for my mother because she lacks everything I am sending. I even bought her dishwasher detergent,” said Andreína Cesarino, who works at one of the many shipping agencies operating in Doral.
“I’m sending her shampoo because there is no shampoo there. It’s not only food they need, but items of personal use,” added Cesarino, who at the company Venesend takes care of dozens of Venezuelan customers.
Despite their huge oil revenue, Venezuelans are close to living in miserable conditions hardly ever seen in the history of their country, and must now stand in line for hours to enter supermarkets where shelves are empty.
Economists attribute the phenomenon to the collapse of the petro-populism established by the late president Hugo Chávez, who destroyed a great part of national industries in his eagerness to force businessmen he considered hostile to join his political project.
But the oil revenue today is not enough to support the enormous weight of the Chavista subsidies, plus the onerous import account, which has led the country to suffer the highest rate of inflation in the world, surpassing 75 percent this year, and a shortage index that, according to the firm Datanálisis, could be more than 50 percent.
For some Venezuelan consumers, the lack of certain products is getting close to 100 percent in the areas where they live, forcing them to ask acquaintances in Miami to shop for them at Publix, Walmart or Winn Dixie and later pay nearly $100 for each box shipped by boat.
Oscar Nova, of the firm On Customs, said that this trend is leading him to reform his business.
Nova has been involved in import-export operations for a while, but he decided to start a business of shipping and deliver door to door given the shortage problems Venezuelans are going through.
“I’m seeing the need that people may have for this type of service,” Nova said. “That’s why I’m getting in it.”
After only two weeks offering this service, the shipment of boxes sent to Venezuela have been relatively few, but Nova foresees that the volume would grow with the ads he has run in one of the community newspapers that circulate in the city.
The products he has delivered so far in Venezuela include rice, sugar, canned food, powdered milk and diapers.
Other companies are also seeing the opportunity.
“Send a purchase of groceries to Venezuela for only $65,” offered the company A Tiempo Cargo in a full-page ad. “Send your family and friends in Venezuela everything they need. … Imperishable food, medicines and any personal item. We ship to any city in Venezuela at no additional cost.
“We do free pickups at your house,” the ad says.
Cesarino said that Venesend is getting this type of shipment almost every day.
“Many of these people have their mother, or a sister or an aunt who is going through a tough time with shortage and they send them a shipment,” Cesarino said.
“Only today, a lady left four boxes full of groceries, candy, juices, sugar, cleaning products, shampoo,” she said.
But some who don’t have relatives in Miami are obtaining the products on their own, buying them online and then asking the company to deliver them to them.
Sometimes they even ask Venesend to make the purchase for them.
“More and more, people call and ask us if we can take them bathing soap. They are placing the orders from Venezuela,” she said. “They realize that they don’t necessarily have to have a relative here, and they are doing their shopping directly. We get it here and we deliver it to them.”
Venesend charges a little more than $105 for each box for shipments by boat. It charges more by air, depending on the weight, he said.