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.