An improvised dollar economy is also not completely immune to hyperinflation. Prices are still going up, and they’re even higher now that they’re set in dollars. This makes it hard for many Venezuelans to afford everyday items. Dilmary Rivas, a neighbor of Ms. Aguilar, earns the equivalent of $120 per month working as a house cleaner. Three years ago, this income was enough to buy three months’ worth of groceries — if she was lucky enough to find them after standing hours in line. Today, her weekly wages allow for just the basics: sugar, coffee, milk, corn flour, cheese, cooking oil. Staples are no longer scarce, but they’re so expensive that other necessities like clothes and toiletries have become a luxury.
“If I buy a pair of socks, I can’t buy eggs,” Ms. Rivas said. “It’s like I traded one problem for another.”
The Venezuela of Hugo Chávez’s professed socialism — with food subsidies that initially helped the poor but soon resulted in chronic shortages — is slowly giving way to Mr. Maduro’s tropical brand of haphazard capitalism, where two currencies exist at odds with each other. There’s economic liberalization, but also repression, price distortions and inequality. And paradoxically, by providing the economy a lifeline to endure crippling U.S. sanctions and persistent inflation, the dollar economy helps Mr. Maduro remain in power.
For all Venezuelans to benefit from a dollar economy, the country would have to adopt the dollar as its sole currency by reaching an agreement between its central bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve. But for this and other deep economic reforms to happen, U.S. sanctions must be lifted.
That’s next to impossible under the political stalemate between Mr. Maduro, a president who is not recognized by the United States, and Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized by Washington as interim president but who is struggling to stay relevant. With another round of negotiations underway in Mexico, Venezuelans may see some progress if the two leaders can agree on a timeline for free and fair elections.
In the meantime, Venezuelans are condemned to continue finding unconventional ways to live in the often absurd lettuce-based economy.
Virginia López Glass is a Venezuelan journalist. She was a senior correspondent for Al Jazeera English from 2015 to 2017.