People queue outside a supermarket in Caracas. Photograph: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images
According to the research company Datanalysis, half of those in any given line are working in this shady arbitrage business. Some are doctors or teachers, who can make more from lining up and selling on than the few cents an hour they are paid in the public system
The queues have added to the social tension in the worlds most murderous city, where residents are more than 100 times more likely to die a violent death than in London, and 25 times more likely than in New York. Crime has worsened in line with the economy. September was the capitals most violent month in six years with 474 killings, according to the National Forensic Medicine Service.
Looting and food riots have become commonplace. According to the Venezuela Conflict Observator, there were 139 food-related protests in the country in August.
All of which has helped fuel political instability. Last month, a million people took to the streets of Caracas to demand the recall of the government, and another big rally has been called for this Wednesday.
Although the opposition is weak and divided, Maduro is on the ropes. His approval ratings have plunged to 15% and his PSUV party has lost control of the legislature. Meanwhile the army a powerful political force throughout Venezuelas history is growing increasingly influential. In July, General Padrino Lpez was placed in charge of food production and distribution. As chief of the great mission of sovereign supply, all other ministers must answer to him.
A militarisation of food supply would be consistent with the governments insistence that Venezuela is the victim of an economic war waged by Colombian gangs, multinational corporations and financial institutions, who hoard goods, manipulate currency rates and smuggle contraband oil across the border.
Certainly, corruption both in the government and the private sector has played a major part in the crisis. But whatever forces are egging on the downfall of Maduro, they are unlikely to have caused as much chaos as the governments maverick policies: Venezuela was moving towards recession even before the oil price crash.
Damningly, many economists believe poverty levels in Venezuela are now higher than they were when Chvez won power 18 years ago.
The government would dispute this, but in Caracas it is easy to see who is suffering the consequences. For the wealthy, it is still possible to buy champagne, Belgian chocolates and US pharmaceuticals. The poor, meanwhile, have to spend more hours in lines waiting for rice, sanitary towels and antibiotics.
The Chavistas had good intentions. At first, they helped the poor more than any government had ever done before said the taxi driver Lopez. The problem is, good intentions are not enough.