Shortage is the word

Cooking oil and sugar: Two of Venezuela’s most wanted

Even the BCV in its latest official numbers was forced to admit it: Food shortages in the country are now on a critical level, reaching 29,4 % in March (compared to 28% in January). This has become the most worrying issue for most Venezuelans in the last year, as this report from Reuters’ Carlos Rawlins notes.

Even as Economic Vice-President Rafael Ramirez says the exact opposite, the problem is causing the government to take some sort of action, including the launch of a controversial rationing e-card.

Nicolas Maduro announced last week other measures to contain the situation, including easing all paperwork for food imports and opening some of the State’s parallel funds (like the Fondo Chino, FONDEN and the Mercosur-ALBA fund) to the local private sector.

But the thing is shortages ain’t new: They have become a serious problem since 2008 (according to the Central Bank’s statistics), in which some food items like milk, cooking oil, sugar, black beans and corn flour are entered into a state of chronic shortage.

What’s the result? People’s precious time is now spent in long searches and endless line-ups: According to pollster DATOS, Venezuelans now stay an average of four hours per day waiting in line to buy basic groceries. The reason? Not the “economic war”, it seems. Puerto La Cruz’s El Tiempo joined a long queque inside a Caracas supermarket and talked with Daisbelys, one of the shoppers in the line:

Esta vaina es todos los dias. I’ve been in line up to four hours and in the end, I leave empty-handed. I can’t be always be like this. I’ve to do my job. I tell my boss I will be late and bring him some things too.”

You can’t just find the groceries. I buy lots of them not because of hoarding, but out of pure anxiety… Can you imagine if one day there’s simply no food at all?”

Yet, there are some benefitting of the shortages: Street vendors who sell some of the most wanted products to prices that pass those established by the Fair Costs and Prices Law. For example, a bottle of cooking oil has an official price of 10,69 Bs., but buhoneros sell it to up ten times that (after all, the BCV reported a 100% shortage rate of cooking oil for last month). And even if the government promised to crack down on them, things remain unchanged so far.

What option is left then? Raising some controlled prices, at least for the time being. Not suprisingly they went quietly and just publish it online and leave instead the whole “economic offensive” rethoric for cadena broadcasts.

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  1. A big point here too is that since the January 2014 report, the Central Bank is taking much longer than it should to release its monthly inflation/scarcity stats. Now, it can take up to, wait, twenty something days to release the scarcity stats and even then, they don’t seem to show much improvement.

  2. Right now, the way things are going, I’d have a few days’ backup supply of food stashed, if I were able. I know that sounds like crazy talk but…

      • Yeah, but what I am saying: let’s not forget the serious shortage problem began long before. The BCV just started to report about that then, perhaps because some people inside thought it was useful…had all of them been fully Chavistas, they would have probably not started it.

  3. This is good news. Easy to say from Miami, but unfortunately a deep malaise caused by serious economic problems is the only thing that will keep our people in the streets.

    That’s what finally got them pissed off, as they started to realize that Chavismo is a lie and a corrupt mess. And still, about 40% still support this inept dictatorship. Even after the charismatic Chavez is gone, and with such clowns in power.

    Now that the opposition has committed the Extremely Serious Mistake of “dialogar” with the dictators. The only way to keep the momentum is popular unrest due to lack of Bread, food, and basic necessities. Sadly, but true. Our people are so uneducated, and/or bribed to the core, that they would otherwise slowly accept this new form of disguised neo-dictatorship, as long as they get a piece of the pie. As the STUPID opposition “negotiates” crap, and actually merges with the corrupt “officials” in place.

    Sad to say it, but every time I read about horrible economic news, inflation,and other problems, I think there still is hope to knock out these clowns from power. Lack of harina pan is not gonna kill us. Inseguridad and street murders does, as long as Madurismo is there.

    • Caracas Gringo said:

      “The Maduro regime will make sure the “dialogue” drags on indefinitely, never going anywhere while the business of “consolidating the revolution” deepens quickly – witness the new education curricula aimed at brainwashing “Bolivarian revolution” into the minds of innocent children. And when the MUD finally walks out, Maduro will immediately accuse the “fascist” opposition of continuing to plot coups, wage economic war and provoke violent street clashes.

      The “dialogue’s” days are counted, but it doesn’t really matter. Venezuela is sliding deeper into a slump unlike anything its people have experienced in recent memory. The Maduro regime can’t halt the economy’s stagflation, lacking both the will and intellectual capacity to address the crisis anyway. But it’s clear that Maduro and gang will not relinquish any political power or reverse expanding efforts to control everything and everyone.”

  4. I’m currently in Venezuela and crime and scarcity are the two main themes with everyone I have spoken to. Cooking oil has virtually disappeared. Batteries for cars. I heard that the waiting list for a new car could be five years. Yesterday people were buying harina pan like crazy since it had shown up at the store…

    • I have heard so many different stories I know longer know what to think.A good friend of mine from Margarita, just spent a week with me and she said that mostly people wait in line there when they want specific items only.She claims her boyfriend is always standing in line for meat because that is what he likes and because there is a shortage of meat, but she eats fish and there is plenty of it.

      Other people do not confront shortages because they are connected with the mafia and in places like Petare, the open markets are always full of food.

      There seems to be as many different situations as there are people and very complicated to understand.

      Now with gasoline shortages I expect food transportation to be worsening

  5. I think most of the food is going to the military and police. How else can they be so stupid to support the government? They cannot afford the time to stand in lines anyway.

    • I am not so sure that all the military and police do support the government, stupid or not.

      There comes a point where you simply cannot get away or quit, much like with street gangs.

      Imagine if you were part of a police or military unit and you were going to be deployed for days or weeks to a particular part of the country, but you didn’t want to go or you felt it simply wasn’t right to participate. Do you think the more ideologically aligned members of your squad would take that lightly? Would they view you as a “traitor” or “fascist”?

      I think there are normal, mostly decent members of the police and military that haven’t quite been weeded out by the politically orthodox. However, there is a contingent within the military that is allowed to act more or less as unleashed bullies to keep the others in line. These guys know where you live and who your family members are. Think they could blackmail you into doing things you would otherwise not do?

      I wonder how many members of the state and municipal police as well as possibly the GNB, are forced to participate in the same way state employees are forced to attend rallies?

  6. One would think that shortages are a universal problem that effect both sides of the political divide. The futility of dialogue in this situation underscores the political gridlock and its crippling effect. This is exactly what democratic institutions are supposed to prevent, and this is exactly what the revolution designed intentionally! The big question is whether the revolution intended a total breakdown, not only of the democratic institutions, but of the disastrous and massive breakdown of public and private infrastructure, the unsustainable accumulation of public debt, and the evisceration domestic production. This already has all the qualities of a civil war in terms of its cost. There has to be a compromise sometime somehow!

    • “The big question is whether the revolution intended a total breakdown, not only of the democratic institutions, but of the disastrous and massive breakdown of public and private infrastructure, the unsustainable accumulation of public debt, and the evisceration domestic production. ”

      I don’t think they ever intended it. The combination of rampant corruption, incompetence, a megolomaniacal leader, and adherence to failed economic ideologies just brought it to this point…Without the oil boom, they would never have been able to overcome all the aforementioned problems long enough to get so entrenched in power.

      • Let’s get to the point! If the revolution was not trying to ruin the country, and if the revolution recognizes the profound danger that seems to be deteriorating further, and if they are going to simply continue blaming the opposition, what do they think is going to happen? Is’nt that a good reason for a dialogue?

        • I think they don’t know what is going to happen, and are either incapable or unwilling to make enough significant changes to stop the economic deterioration. They have already shown they have no choice but to rely more and more on violence and explicit coercion to remain in power, making any pretense of democracy or a free society impossible to continue.

        • Rory, I think they know. The revolution is prepared to sacrifice the economy and anything else, and especially anything that gets in the way. This is a really dangerous situation, because the Cuban economy is so fragile, and the Castro brothers are getting so old that they don’t have much to lose.

  7. And to underline the points above and add insult to injury, now Caracas, the capital city of a 2 mm barrel a day oil producing nation, is suffering gasoline shortages throughout the city.

    How’s this going to play out next week?

  8. A few days ago I was fortunate enough to find by chance a supermarket in the outskirts of Caracas which was doling out , corn flour , sugar , rice in six kilo portions . There was more than one queue depending on the product. the corn flour queue was enormous but moved more rapidly than the others which were exasperatingly slow , most people where of humble extraction , they didnt speak directly ill of the govt ( except in one queue) but they were all complaining loudly of how dreadful it was for each of them to get away from the care of loved ones or from work to pass hours making a queue which sometimes ended in them not getting everything!! they werent happy !!. I spent close to 4 hours doing first the corn meal queue ( which was better organized ) then the others . At a point the speakers announced the end of corn meal packets . there was heavy national guard presence about the queues . I was very pleased in the end to surprise my family with a load of very scarce items which for many weeks have been impossible to find . On the way to this place in the outskirts I tried unsuccesfully to find a gas station with gas to fill my car up finally after three failed tries I found one which had gasoline .
    Going to the market now involves expending between two and three times as much as we did before ( not exagerating ) . Have several acquaintances who have had to keep their cars stalled in search of tires or car betteries ,for three weeks of more . What I always find agreeable is the chance of talking humorously and familiarly with people from all over the social spectrum while waiting in these queues sharing in their complaints and stories. , Venezuelans and still Venezuelans !! .

    • “hey were all complaining loudly of how dreadful it was for each of them to get away from the care of loved ones or from work to pass hours making a queue which sometimes ended in them not getting everything!! they werent happy !!.”

      Do you think they were reluctant to place blame among strangers? DId anyone mention ‘hoarders’?

      • No one about me mentioned hoarding or reselling , they all seemed to be thinking of the foodstuffs they got as something they would use to feed themselves and their familities . One lady made icecreams for a living ( she was the most silent one) and later told me quietly how glad she was to find enough sugar to carry on with her small business .

  9. Here in Valencia, people from the southern portions of the city come to the supermarkets of the northern parts. Huge, and I really mean huge lines appear outside the supermarkets. They purchase every scarce product when they arrive at the supermarkets, then, they go to resell the products. That’s how it works here. It’s been like that for a while.

  10. I don’t see the problem… Instead of circus to keep everyone “enlightened”, you get to get busy in line… no time to go on marchas, no time to protest, just enough to vent with your next-to in line and maybe feel some accomplishment as you leave with 2 or 3 items of the 10 you may be looking for. The scalpers on the streets are happy that they are “beating the system” as well as those who buy from them. Everyone somehow makes due and is happy… That’s why Venezuela comes up to be among the happiest countries in the world. (Sorry guys, I just can’t seem to get over the fact that Venezuela is named among the happiest in the world… what, who and where were people surveyed to reach that conclusion??!!… I guess we must learn to read what the people of our country really want, our surreality…)

    • It’s so happy that thousands and thousands of people leave every year to emigrate somewhere else, and no one is emigrating here!

    • David Kahneman , winner of the noble price for his study of human behaviour and the operation of the human mind points out that experiencing actual happiness and declaring your self happy are not necessarily the same thing , people may feel motivated to publicly declare themselves happy even if their lives are not all that happy . for example because admitting to unhapiness is somehow humiliating , like declaring your self a failure in life so that subliminally you tend to put up a happy contented face before the world to advertise what a fortunate succesful life you lead .

      Culturally many people in Venezuela find being the object of other peoples compassion humbling and would rather hide their misfortunes than reveal them , maybe they are also afraid of becoming the victims of other peoples sheudenfreund , the malicious glee that people feel on discovering other peoples misfortune . !!

      • Thanks, that certainly helps reading the results. Come to think of it there are ways we talk and act that convey the same message. When people say things like “Estás completamente equivocao…” or “Caíste como un pendejo”… These statements, someone else pointed out, enabled me to see that Venezuelans make it their trait never to be wrong, someone else is; we are always in the “know” and whoever says them wants to project that he/she/they are indeed above and beyond this frailty.
        On the other hand, a video of Emilio Lovera, I just once more enjoyed (it’s here, takes me back a step or two to understand it is just a matter of survival, sometimes not even of the fittest, but of those who can fake it better.


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