The Bolivarian National Guard stand in formation during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

The lines outside Venezuelan supermarkets can stretch for hours, snaking down sidewalks and right-angling around corners. Each one is like a hissing fuse. Will they explode?

Venezuela withers away a little more each week. Another food staple or medicine or industrial part goes missing, bringing the breaking point closer. The national guard troops policing the supermarket lines grip their riot shields and truncheons tighter, looking ever more jittery.


Panoramic view of the Caracas slum Petare, one of the largest in Latin America. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

A man waits outside a government supermarket to buy food. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

A police officer instructs a woman to leave a line to buy food outside a government building. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

It all is a waiting game. The government of President Nicolás Maduro is waiting for a rise in oil prices to save it from catastrophe. It is waiting for rainfall to rescue its hydroelectric plants and end the rotating blackouts that have cut the work week for state employees from five days to two. The government is holding on to hopes of another loan from China, or any other creditor willing to lend it a little breathing room.

The government knows it better put something on the supermarket shelves for Venezuelans to wait for.


Vinegar lines the shelves of an aisle inside a government supermarket. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

The shortage of products and food force supermarkets to fill the shelves with the only products available. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

Venezuela’s political opposition is also watching the fuse, and sometimes trying to fan it, but its street protests look small beside the food lines. The opposition took control of parliament in December, but that didn’t matter. Maduro disregards their laws, their votes, their condemnations and warnings. They’re bystanders too, for the most part. For how much longer?

The waiting game goes on. Venezuela’s neighbors are playing it, too, wondering if the crash can be softened and how far it may ripple. U.S. officials think the end is close. But all manner of experts and outsiders have been saying that about Venezuela for a while now, and the lines just get longer.


A woman runs from police officers during clashes with protesters trying to reach the headquarters of the country’s electoral body to demand a referendum to recall the president. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

An anti-government protester is detained by the Bolivarian National Guard. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

Opposition supporters run from tear gas. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

Bolivarian National Guard stand in formation. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

A protester covers his face to protect against tear gas. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

The weariness looks like exhaustion in these images from Venezuelan photographer Alejandro Cegarra. His pictures show the Caracas park where he played as a kid, now in ruins, and a nearby McDonald’s, empty of customers because runaway inflation means a Happy Meal costs nearly a third of an average monthly wage.

There is no shortage of street crime and violence in this dystopia. While Cegarra found plenty of battle-clad guardsman to keep the supermarket lines in formation, the cop in a nearby park was a cardboard cutout.

Venezuela is running on an empty tank. The government can’t stop the slide, and the opposition can’t stop the government. All that’s left to do is wait until something gives.


The mother of Gabriel Vizcaya cries beside his coffin. Gabriel died from a grenade explosion during an exchange between police officers and gang members. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

Gabriel Vizcaya’s father throws a rose on to his son’s grave. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

A cardboard cutout of a police officer is seen in Caracas. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

An empty McDonald’s on a Sunday afternoon. The high prices of fast food prohibit many Venezuelans from dining out. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

An abandoned park in Caurimare, a middle-class neighborhood in Caracas. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

A kid plays in an abandoned playground in east Caracas. (Alejandro Cegarra for The Washington Post)

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