CARACAS – Buying a new car, eating out in a well-heeled restaurant or traveling abroad, these are luxuries available to only five percent of Venezuela’s population, some 1.5 million people who live a life above the poverty experienced by the vast majority of others.
The lucky ones are thriving in a socio-economic crisis that has forced five million people to flee the country in recent years.
Many of those who choose to stay survive on just $50 a month, which leaves them short of everyday necessities.
According to analyst Henkel Garcia, there is a “new phenomenon” where around 5 percent of the population is benefiting from the government’s flexible economic policies. The tentative signs of economic recovery are limited to this selective group and will remain so unless new policies are enacted, he added.
In certain parts of the country, car dealerships have sprung back into life with top-end vehicles after years of being closed down, new restaurants are boasting international menus and designer shops, the natural habitats for those living in the exclusive bubble in Venezuela, habitats where privacy is paramount.
As with an exclusive country club, it is hard to identify those enjoying a life of luxury in the South American nation, but their existence, especially around the capital Caracas, where the upper echelons of society live free of power cuts and gas shortages, is evident.
Just last year, dozens of shops selling imported goods, known as “bodegones,” sprung up in the capital.
A kilo of precooked cornmeal, which is consumed by millions every day in Venezuela, will sell for twice as much in a bodegon than in a regular supermarket.
A bodegon owner who requested anonymity told EFE he believed this was the case because the clients are “middle class and in a rush and do not want to line up at the supermarket.”
Although the country is no longer the scene of long supermarket lines as foods shortages were eased with imports and partial freeing up of prices, that 5 percent still prefers to shop where they can find a variety of products. Some of the goods on the shelves would cost the average Venezuelan worker a year’s salary.
Recovering from the production drought of 2015-18 that stalled the country’s domestic car industry, there are now at least a dozen dealers in Caracas offering a range of models for those who can afford to part with several thousand dollars.
With looser regulations and most transactions being done in dollars, some units can shift for anywhere between $20,000-$100,000.
“The number of Venezuelans who have that saved is quite small,” Garcia said, adding that Venezuela’s car industry was still minor compared to other South American nations.
For most outside the top 5 percent, the consumption habits of this new elite are extravagant, especially for a country experiencing a drastic economic contraction – today’s GDP is a third of what it was in 2013.
The majority of Venezuelan workers are simply looking to earn a touch more cash, perhaps $100, to treat themselves to “luxuries” like shoes or hygiene products.
This is the case of economist Diosa Rodriguez, 72, who told EFE she is shocked by the proliferation of bodegones in a country where the minimum salary is 250,000 bolivars ($3).
From the sidewalk in eastern Caracas, motorist Luis Contreras, 51, said that with $500 he could “live in peace.”
“Unfortunately, not everyone here has money,” he said.
Garcia, director of the firm Econometrica, said that to access that top 5 percent, you would need to be single and childless and earn over $500 a month.
At least 6 million Venezuelans earn $6 or $7 per month.