“Mommy, can we get some French fries?” asked my daughter as we drove past the massive granite monolith that is the McDonald’s store of La Castellana in Caracas.

“There are no French fries in Venezuela, baby” sentenced my wife.

My daughter’s eyes dampened like that was the saddest thing she ever heard. And perhaps it was.

“Wait, wait, wait, that is not exactly right,” I replied. Because that’s what daddies do, they sabotage mommies. “You cannot say there are no fries in Venezuela.”

I jumped off the car determined to prove her wrong. I rolled over the asphalt like Bruce Willis and entered the store with chivalrous flare. I got in line, and read the options that Ronald Mc-D was offering to go with its combos — let’s take the double quarter pounder (royale with cheese) for example: Bs. 675 with fried arepitas; Bs. 720 with yuca and salad; and Bs. 835 with fries.

I sent a whatsapp message to my lady boss. “I won.”

While standing in line, I remembered that early in the year —the first week, in fact— , Barbara and Anabella tackled the French fry problem. The disappearance of French fries from the McDonald’s menu had gone viral in part thanks to Dante Rivas’ —another of chavismo’s multipurpose ministers— response to the outrage over, well, the disappearance of McDonald’s French fries from the menu.

Although McDonald’s had said it was due to a labor strike in the West Coast ports, Rivas mocked the outrage stating that there would be no people’s Dollars —CADIVI Dollars, I assume— to import fries. Some hipster, common-sense news outlets pouned on the strike story and called out the people who were making such a big fuss about not being able to quench their pequeño burgués urges.

Seven months later, and I found myself standing before a choir of McDonald’s hyenas, laughing their guts out, just because I naturally asked for one order of large fries. Las sonrisas son gratis. I had not been in Caracas in six months.

There are no economic indicators to explain the scarcity of french fries, or of many of the other things I found in short supply. Actually, there are no official economic indicators at all, because the Central Bank sort of decided that publishing them would hurt the economy.

Most people are relying on homemade indicators.

A good example of these artisanal economic indicators was the (late) Rottiserie Chicken Index (IPB) made popular by journalist and web activist Luis Carlos Díaz.

Last week Díaz tweeted that the chicken price indicator had disappeared from the roadside billboard. I wondered whether it had to do with pressures from the government —the IPB has become one of the benchmark references for inflation in the country—, or just that the ticker broke down. So I went to the arepera and spoke to one of the cashiers. As I enquired about the index, the man said that they got fed with having to change the price every two weeks or so. That the current price of the rottiserie chicken was Bs. 1550 (about $2.27 at the parallel market rate). Venezuela broke the IPB.

This information cost me a Toddy Frío. As I drew a Bs. 50 bill to pay for the chocolate beverage, the cashier laughed and said: sorry, primo, it’s 250.

Damn. Then he went on a rant about public policy and economics, about all the decisions that the government wasn’t taking, and that it would be a while before we could hold our heads over water. [You got my vote, good sir.] He also said business was slow, that nights were bringing less and less people because of the beer shortage(!). And that their classic neon sign was out of duty because it was expensive to fix and there weren’t any spare parts anyway. I don’t think this was one of the reasons their sales were down, but it seemed to make primo very unhappy. I did not leave a tip because Bolivar bank notes are scarce too.

An arepera out of beer. That’s sad. But not as sad, perhaps, as a famous café known for it’s pabellón empanadas … running out of black beans. The pabellón is the national dish, and as many latinocaribbean national dishes it’s a mixture of shredded beef, rice, plantains, and beans. The pabellón empanada is just a necessary and sinful spinoff of the traditional pabellón.

When I ordered that delicious menage a trois of protein, carbs, and scorching hot oil, the waiter said, sorry but we are out of black beans. No worries, just do it with the remaining ingredients. There’s no plantain.

No plantains in our banana republic … take a minute to digest that, given how we can’t digest actual plantains, or black beans, or fries.

As it happens, black beans are regulated at Bs. 65 a kilo are sold at 1,200 in the streets.

But hey, let us order a cazón (baby shark) empanada instead —a traditional margariteño dish—. Sorry, no fish.

Fish is scarce even in boutique stores, which sell whatever fish they can put their hands on at Gucci prices. You’d think that Venezuela has a long coastline boasting with fish, but apparently it doesn’t. Venezuela is like Bolivia. Or perhaps it’s just that fishermen sell their catch overseas, in Dollars, and bring back just enough to cover their bolivar-denominated operative costs in Venezuela (e.g. one sardine).

Friends in mass distribution are expecting a Mad Max scenario over the coming months with their food trucks. The craze is not about regulated products anymore, it’s about anything you can sell. One of them said to me: “You don’t like buying from bachaqueros? Wait ’till you’re buying from pranes.”

Back to the fries.

The French fries McDonald’s sells are imported. There is no CADIVI, SITME, SIMADI, or other combination of acronyms that will make them come back, because there are simply no dollars to feed these subsidised mechanisms. If McD’s bought their fries using dollars at the parallel rate, their combos would be absurdly expensive for their targeted consumers, and most likely they can’t sell them on the side, like other franchises do, because of their stringent franchising rules —which have already been bent to allow the arepitas and nasty yucca fries.

The restaurants that do have French fries either prepare hand crafted fries, or charge an absurd amount for the fries to go with your meal.

The first option makes no sense for a fast food restaurant. I went to three establishments that used to sell their burgers, fried chicken, and sandwiches, comboed with fries, and in every single one of them I had to buy them on the side. The French fries were almost as expensive as the main course.

Also, I visited a fancier franchise, and they didn’t even sell French fries. Their sandwiches came with different variations of potato —including the nonpotato nasty yuca—, and the most popular one:patatas bravas.

So in the end I had to sit down with my daughter and explain to her that, well, there’s no French fries in McDonald’s because there are no French fries in Venezuela.

She thought about it for two seconds and said “if there are no fries in McDonald’s why do they have those two huge French fries in their sign? They should take them down. People might get confused.”

She moved on.

35 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the update on the French fries. Always wondered if it was just a temporary thing back when it was in the news and now I know.

  2. Everytime you go to a store to buy anything you want or need and cant find what youe looking for or have to pay a multiple of what you used to pay before or have to make a long queue to try to find ( or go without it) its a direct propaganda byte against the govt . Now think of the thousand times a day in which this happens in Venezuela , and the thousand of people of who go through these bad moments whenever needing to buy anything and your can visualize what the govt propaganda machine is going against !!

    They need a hundred Goebles coming up with brilliant ideas every day to even attempt to fight this omnipresent hard biting anti regime campaign !! No wonder they invent such extravagant stuff to try and draw attention away from the irritating offenses the crisis inflicts on ordinary Venezuelans every passing day ..

  3. I really don’t understand how anyone can operate a franchise successfully in Venezuela. Not only cost prohibitive to import products, if you can, but can’t even get sufficient quantities of locally produced products.

  4. I wonder if Venezuela could import potatoes from Bolivia, which has plenty of potatoes and a pro-Chavista government. Maybe McDonalds Venezuela could figure out a way to make french fries out of chuño, the traditionally freeze-dried potato from the Altiplano. Though I supposed that black chuño converted to french fries might be a difficult sell.

  5. No potatoes because of no dollars to buy them from Canada and no interest of the franchise to develop a process to adapt the recipe to the country’s potato production.

    Their solution was the nasty yuca fries. Another proof of a lack of interest in developing the agroindustry in the country (of course I know because of the country-situation but indeed a problem older than chavizmo). There’s no other way to industrialize yuca than chopping and freeze them in bars for packing. No yuca flour, no yuca semoline, no yuca nothing.

    A big problem maybe if having no MacDonald’s potato chips is something we could be worry about. But being objective a one composed by the lack of foreing currency and the franchise model of that business.

    And Raul have said, “no mi amor, no son papas fritas en el logo, son arcos, porque si la papa frita se curva no pasa el control de calidad de MacDonalds”.

    Some people think everything will be fine after Chavizmo be out from Venezuela, but one of the faces of rentism is that one, no interest in develop and research as money (petromoney) can buy solutions from everywhere.

    And yes, fishermen sells their catchments abroad (it has been happening at least 8 years ago), it’s the only way to stand operative costs as bolívares fuertes VEF don’t buy supplies, fixing pieces or even diesel. That’s why Paraguanian crops scape to Aruba and everyone close to the frontier try to sell their products in pesos, reais, dollars or whatever without the Father-of-Motherland’s name printed on it.

    • “no interest of the franchise to develop a process to adapt the recipe to the country’s potato production.”

      In McD’s case, you CAN’T buy the fries anywhere but FROM them, period.

      • Potatoes grown in the tropics do not have the same fluffy texture as those grown in colder climates. McDonald’s entire business strategy is maintaining the same quality of product in all of it’s locations. They refused to allow franchises for a long time in China, because of concerns that they would not be able to achieve their standards. In any case, they are very strict about what they allow the local franchises to do.

    • Without demoting the merit of your comment, the selling of sea catches and other products to foreign fleets and markets such as the Antilles and Trinidad, and even Antigua, is not new; it has been going on for decades. Certainly, it was not a big deal back in the ’80s when internal production was more than enough. Too bad it happened then, to bad it happens now.

  6. McDonald french fries are just one food item among a very long list of food items which have either dissapeared entirely or become very hard to find and if found very difficult to buy because of the incredible increase in prices. To us in Venezuela this missing french fries experience is a daily and constant experience involving many other food items. Things which not so long ago one easily could find in most stores !!

    One doesnt realize how these shortages or disspeared items meant in ones life until they are no longer to be found . The frightening thing is that the list grows longer by the day , so that from one week to the next you cant predict what can go missing . This uncertainty takes a toll in how at home one can feel in ones world.!

  7. My husband tried to take our son to McDonalds in Maracaibo a few days ago and they had no french fries and NO HAMBURGERS. All you could order were chicken nuggets…of doubtful origin as there is precious little chicken anywhere around here.

  8. Why don’t you like the “nasty yuca sticks” ??? I haven’t tried ’em though. However there’s no punta trasera without yuca! Love it! Cachorros did have them once and said they weren’t so bad…

    • BTW that is the only “politically correct” comment I can deliver from your article… The other comments are x rated… #SuMadre…

    • They are horrible, trust me. Talking about being able to adapt to the country´s food production, McDonalds totally missed the recipe for the fried yuca. I think they used the wrong oil to fry them (I wonder which oil does McDonalds use, and if is imported), the fried yuca has a starch flavor that is pretty tasteless itself. Another thing is they get cold incredibly fast, its just a different vegetable, in McD´s case badly cooked.. Far from the yuca frita you would find in any of the famous Caracas steakhouses. I wonder how much would a person spend at El Alazan nowadays…

      • The best fried yuca you can get is the one that is sold at the “polleras” anywhere. I can’t imagine roasted chicken combo without them.

    • Nuances.
      Yuca sticks in an arepera, a braseria or a parrillera are slices of deep fried heaven.
      Yuca sticks in a fast food chain like McD’s? Tasteless sticks of I don’t know what synthetic material.

      I knew a guy who could heartily eat the arepas of Mcdonald’s for breakfast… A person like that cannot be trusted.

  9. “…feed these SUBSIDISED mechanisms. If McD’s bought their fries using dollars at the parallel rate…”

    ¿Aló? ¿Ley de Ilícitos cambiarios? ¿Ajá? ¿Me dice que “mecanismo subsidiado” significa realmente “el único mecanismo es el monopolio de doce años porque si no compras ahí a ustedes entonces voy preso”? ¿Y que igual no me van a vender un cebillo? Ok, gracias por la información, chao, pues…

    …El co… Su madre…

  10. Deadliest country on Earth, worst economy, worst inflation, babies dying in hospitals full of rats and giant possums, no diapers or harina pan, no chicken or tuna, impending war against the Yankee Empire, Guyana and now Colombia, declared State of Exception, and all these burguesitos pelucones de la ultra-derecha, all these sifrinos de Macaracuay can think of are their greasy McDonalds french fries?!

    • Personally dont miss the MacDonald french fries one bit , but my wife and ‘children’ love them , used to buy them every other weekend for their enjoyment , I much prefer yuca ( not the one served in Macdonalds but the one prepared at home) . My wife swears that the best french fries ever are those served in certain Spanish restaurants , dont understand how people find the Macdonald fries so irresistible but there it is , no accounting for peoples tastes !! The proscription of Madonalds fries in Venezuela is an example of how the regime is impoverishing the life of many by taking aways the possibility of indulging in some of its most innocent and common pleasures. !! Thats why it deserves mention in this blog.!

  11. Very good post showing the current state of scarcity in Venezuela.

    I came back from Venezuela yesterday, I stayed two weeks and let me tell you… in terms of scarcity Caracas is Geneva and San Cristóbal is Mogadishu, what is happening there is terrible, cash, food, lubricants for cars, everything is smuggled to Colombia. I saw many adverts on shop windows looking for staff, not many people want to work for the minimum wage, enchufarse o bachaquear da mas.

  12. Haunting words:

    “One of them said to me: ‘You don’t like buying from bachaqueros? Wait ’till you’re buying from pranes.’ “

  13. Something seldom mentioned is that the store owners are deadly afraid of the Bachaqueros , of their penchant for violence and of the threat they represent to their business and so will go to great lenghts not to antagonize them in any way , that means that they will allow them great leeway in abusing their numbers and behaviour. Also the store employees are often in cahoots with friends or bachaqueros to aid them in getting hold of regulated goods as soon as they arrive if they dont help themselves to them before anyone else to later resell themselves.

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