The people waiting for hours in front of the drugstore were dazed with heat and boredom when the gunmen arrived. The robbers demanded a cellphone from a 25-year-old in black shorts. Instead of handing it over, Junior Perez took off running. Eight shots rang out, and he fell face-down. The dozens of shoppers in line were unmoved. They held their places as the gunmen went through Perez’s pockets. They watched as thick ribbons of blood ran from the young man’s head. And when their turn came, they bought two tubes each of rationed toothpaste. As Venezuela’s lines have grown longer and more dangerous, they have become not only the stage for everyday life, but also a backdrop to death. More than two dozen people were killed in line in the past 12 months, including a 4-year-old girl caught in gang crossfire.
These days, you have to put the line above everything.
Haide Mendoza, pharmacist who was there that morning
The extent of the country’s economic collapse can be measured in the length of its lines. The average Venezuelan shopper spends 35 hours waiting to buy subsidized goods each month, according to the polling firm Datanalisis. Venezuela’s vast oil wealth once fueled a bustling economy. But years of mismanagement under a socialist government disrupted much of the nation’s production, and a steep drop in the price of oil left the country unable to pay to import basic necessities. Shortages now top voters’ lists of concerns, surpassing even safety. That’s stunning in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates. And the longest lines are for food, which is the shortest in supply.