As Pernilgate unfolded, we all watched the protests caused by the government’s failure to deliver on its electoral promise of “one vote, one pernil” with a mixture of sadness and

Some even dwelled on the esoteric question of the righteous protest.

Most, however, failed to reflect on why the hell an almost-failed state is devoting desperately scarce resources to importing expensive cuts of pork.

Pernil has been a mainstay of the Venezuelan plato navideño since the 19th century. Today, it is painfully unaffordable for people on normal incomes. The price per kilo in some unsubsidized stores hovers around four times the minimum wage.

The real scandal isn’t that some people didn’t get a pernil. The real scandal is that each family that did get a pernil condemned its neighbours’ children to starvation. 

So forget Maslow, this isn’t about food. The Christmas pernil is a mirage of luxury amid the misery and starvation provoked by the epic chavista mismanagement. It’s about the self-harming fantasy that even today the petrostate should be extravagant. 

The failure to import expensive pork amidst our worst economic crisis in two centuries betrays something else: a catastrophic failure to grasp the concept of opportunity cost. Each pernil, good for three or four meals, meant months worth of more affordable food couldn’t be brought into the country. 

The same economic illiteracy that made them think they could subsidize everything made the government think it made sense to spend millions on expensive cuts of European luxury food while children literally starve to death.

The real scandal isn’t that some people didn’t get a pernil. The real scandal is that each family that did get a pernil condemned its neighbours’ children to starvation. 

Amid this catastrophe, believing that subsidizing perniles is an acceptable state policy is not just intellectually bankrupt, it’s morally bankrupt as well

The insanity of the way we talk about this whole issue came home to me as I listened to this wonderful interview with the Portuguese Foreign Trade Minister, Augusto Santos Silva. Dryly, Santos Silva explains that Portugal is a market economy where pork production and exports are carried out by private companies, far from the Portuguese government’s control.

This was in response to Maduro’s allegation that sabotage by the Portuguese government caused the whole mess, a claim made after blaming the U.S., Julio Borges and Colombia. Of course, the real cause is that the government stiffed a Portuguese company over payments for pork purchased starting in 2016. Of course.

It’s a lesson any future government would do well to take on.

Pernil will make its way back to most Venezuelans Christmas table only once we have a market economy with a robust private sector intelligently regulated by a competent government. The plain truth of the matter is that’s until we get that, we’ll continue to see people fighting to death for toys, or girls murdered by drunken national guards while running for food.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Este tipo de absurdos son los que uno puede esperar cuando en twitter puedes leer cosas como “Antes cuando veía un anuncio de un perro perdido me preocupaba que lo atropellaran o se muriera de hambre, hoy me preocupa que se lo hayan comido” (Luis H. Acuña) o “Nuestro querido conductor quien vive en un barrio de #Petare ofrece su prueba de que #Venezuela está en crisis: su vecino malandro no tuvo balas para disparar al aire desde su ametralladora para recibir el Año Nuevo” (@kejalvyas)

    El que R. Hausmann pida públicamente una intervención militar extranjera y no resulte descabellado dice también mucho sobre la situación el país y la manera en que los propios venezolanos han manejado esta enorme crisis.

  2. I agree fully. I am depressed when I see how the few oppo “leaders” we have in Venezuela still do not want to convey this message…or even do not understand it. I was reading a German book about Venezuela written by a certain Otto Bürger back in 1922, when hyper corrupt, feudal Gómez was ruling the country. You have there lots of fascinating details about salaries for different professions, prices and so on.

    I could confirm what I long suspected: living standards even for the poor worker or landless farmer, like my grandfather, who had to run to the mountains to escape getting drafted by the recluta gomecista, were better back then than now under Chavismo. That is very very depressing.
    A poor worker could back then afford more food than now.

    I remember how my grandparents described those times of hardship. If they were alive today…well, they would die right away after seeing this.

    Again I ask: why can’t anyone with some leadership start spreading the word about what our priorities should be?

    I do not think we will ever get a responsible government of good technocrats and good communicators
    in Venezuela unless we firstly get people now hitting the road and explaining everyone what it is we need to do apart from getting rid of chavismo.

    I think there is no solution until someone does the hard job of educating the average citizen in Venezuela.
    Nadie quiere lavar los platos primero.

    • Yes, Francisco, your argument is spot-on and pernilgate defies any economic logic in the real world.

      However, this is KLEPTOZUELA as one Poeta on the CCS message board rightfully asserts.

      Until everyday Venezuelans come to understand that money does not grow on trees (PDVSA) and it is not ok to steal money through corruption (from top to bottom and from bottom to top, from Chavista enchufado to opposition enchufado) nothing will change here.

      The fools here believe the oil money is their God given right. If they cannot obtain their cupo through legal means, they have no moral qualms to go the back route trough corruption–which has become a way of life–AKA a culture of corruption of epic proportions.

      We are suffering the 10 Plagues of Egypt because of the sins of the Venezuelan people and until the Venezuelan people start pointing the fingers at themselves we will never get out of this mess.

      That said, blaming their own constituents and making them fess up for all their sins over the years is not good political speak. Enchufado is enchufado. Malandro is malandro. We have reached a moment where- if we want to ever get out of this mess- we have to start calling a spade a spade. And unfortunately the MUD are too busy covering up their own megaGuisos while at the same time decrying the megaGuisos of the Chavistas.

      Honestly, if Venezuelans are going to resolve this themselves (without a foreign intervention) we need “blank slate politics”. Numero 1: THROW OUT ALL THE POLITICIANS–EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM!! If you have served in politics in the last 10-15 years: CHAO!!! (that said, people are stupid and always fall for the cult of personality rather than realize what we really need are boring bureaucrats who do their jobs). Secondly, we need to disband the military and get the military out of politics (easier said than done). Third, since there wont be any money to build new prisons that actually work anytime soon, you have to start killing malandros in order to bring some degree of security back to Venezuela. Hey, way back in the days in Margarita there was a politcs of “alta mar” and all you needed was a fishing boat to just throw the malandros out to as fish food. Besides the benefit of feeding the fish, you are also helping the gene pool because malandros always breed more little malandros. Blank slate is blank slate, and we need to be writing on the new chalk board with chalk, not a turd.

      Regardless none of the above will ever happen because most people here do not know how to think outside of the box (or outside of their CLAP box).

      Go Team Screwed!!

      • Last time I heard “THROW ALL THE BUMS OUT, BRING ALL NEW PEOPLE” was pre-1998, look where it brought us. The focus needs to be on the system.

    • Indeed. Until “el pueblo” is begins to get some real education, Kleptozuela is screwed. (Blame the previous MUD: 40 years of AD/Copey = Zero education for an abysmally ignorant and alienated ‘el pueblo’, thus, Chavismo emerged. “Un voto, un pernil” as a campaign slogan is what you get with these levels of astronomical under-education. Nothing anyone can explain about basic economic principles to such clueless people.

      This post keeps talking about ” economic illiteracy” and “intellectually bankrupt” politicians and “intelligent regulation”. It completely misses the point. Even stupid, also under-educated Chavistas in power know that Pernilgate is not the way to go, that price controls and subsidies are a sham. It’s obvious. They do all that knowingly just because it’s the Cuban model to Screw a country, keep its people poor and dependent, uneducated, begging for pernil.

      Stop talking about “mistakes” or ignorance from the Narco-Kleptocracy. They know all too well what should and should not be done. They choose to STEAL above all and remain in power, at any cost, to avoid being jailed. Comprende? As simple as that.

      Haussman is right: only a Coup de Force can save Kleptozuela now. Been saying it for years. And after that, educate the ignorant pueblo, which takes time. Much like Pinochet did in Chile. Look at Chile now.

      Meanwhile, “y donde esta mi pelnil” se pregunta el pueblo Chavista, rezandole al comandante Chavez, donde quiera que este.. Y mi guiso pal’ 2018??

    • What is it really compared to the squandering of a mega commodities cycle?

      At least in the last one they built Universities, highways and a cosmopolitan middle class. They had a some measure of public health. They remanded the military to the their barracks. They built the Metro. They had a working oil company.

      What do Chavistas have to show for this one? Bolichicos? Starvation? Disease? A failed state? Anything?

      Guacharaca, presents the plight of Venezuela in biblical terms making a reference to Exodus. I wish to hope that the Venezuelan tragedy is akin to the 40 years of wondering in the Sinai Desert where “God purified his people”. Expunge from your soul communism and populism.

    • The right comparison should be “what’s the import of pork compared to the new vacation house diosdado bought for his daughter?”

  3. I am reminded of a customer I had years ago. (I am a home builder)

    He had bought a wreck of a house, and wanted to refurbish it. It was a “gut job” to be kind, but he wanted it. So we sat down to discuss what the plan for this house was going to be… what he and his wife wanted. He went on and on about how wonderful the house had been 50 years ago when he lived in it as a child, and how he wanted to preserve that vibe. He also went on and on about how shitty the house was now.

    OK… the house USED to be great. The house CURRENTLY is in shitty shape. “What do you want to do to it?”

    They guy couldn’t get past the current shape of the house. He proceeded to go on and on about how the wiring was X and the plumbing was Y and the blah blah blah… he couldn’t wrap his head around that while the house was indeed a wreck, he needed a plan going forward. “Call me in a week and tell my what you have decided”, I told him.

    A week goes by, and he calls up to bitch more and more about the house. He didn’t want to bulldoze it, but he couldn’t express (to me at least) what his plan for the future of his disastrous purchase was going to be. He seemed fully content to bitch about how horrible the house was. I told him to find another builder.

    I see a lot of this in the opposition in Venezuela. Bitch bitch bitch… but nothing in the form of even a vision other than to get rid of Chavismo. The vast majority of the parties are about as Leftist as Chavismo, in my opinion. They seem to think that the problem with Chavismo is that the wrong people are administering it.

    I don’t see a way out, until somebody “bitch-slaps” the Venezuelan populace with some cold hard facts, namely that government isn’t your mama and you need to let go of the tit.

    • ElGuapo –

      I’ve said that many times here. Jose Guerra came up with five points of a plan, and they are correct, in my opinion. I bookmarked the article in TalQual but it has disappeared. It’s not hard to put back together some of the points: 1) eliminate the currency and foreign exchange controls, 2) restore guarantees of private property, 3) restore private importation of goods such as replacement parts. It’s just common sense. He may have included the return of the oil industry to private hands, and fully audited government use of royalties and taxes. He should have included a “search and find” for the missing $300 billion to level off the debt. I think there has to be a period of transition from the socialist nightmare back to a real economy, and international aid will only fund part of that. He wrote back in 2016 when the exchange was in the BF40,000 range and before the widely publicized scarcity of physical currency, so today some form of stable medium of exchange is necessary – and I’ll admit implementing that is a little over my head, but my feeling is to let the free market sort it out and adapt the official policy to the free market decisions made by millions (not the other way around).

      Many times I’ve talked about the necessity of a plan to shoot for, specifically in agriculture. Venezuela is geographically rich in agriculture. All sorts of herds will do well there. All kinds of crops will grow well there. There’s as much fresh water as there is oil, and a huge coast line. Yet the country imports 70% of its food (rough number for 2015 – 2016). Freeing up the sector and returning lands to the “rich” will bring in economies of scale necessary, and some crops may grow faster than others, but it’s going to take at least a year to get the production up. Developed countries have huge industrial-scale farming an employ low single digits of the population.


      You run into the perennial problem of the rejection of real solutions and plans. I just read an article which probably had some hype in it, but apparently transplanted Venezuelans are doing exceptionally well in Chilean universities, in terms of grade point averages, so it is not that there are “intelligence problems” with Venezuelans. And I’ve seen exceptionally good trade labor in Venezuela, in all manner of trades from stone work to shoes to barbers to waiters to major manufacturing and accounting, so it isn’t that Venezuela has “lazy problems”. Maybe it’s a “lack of hope” problems – and a realistic and proven plan such as Guerra proposed would help that. I know it’s not just that I’m a “gringo” and a “no entiende nada”. Guerra is native Venezuelan and not stupid by any measure.

      Crickets. And that’s about what’s going to be left of Venezuela if these guys don’t get with a program. Let’s toss in tree frogs and chicharras.

      As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you better be careful, because you might not get there.”

      • I would agree 100%. The private sector is the answer.

        The problem with the VZ opposition is that they are more worried about getting elected than doing the right thing. These FRAUDS will tell El Pueblo exactly what they want to hear, and the DUMB MASSES will eat it up. Which begs the question, why do they keep falling for the same lies from different actors?

        Who is the dummy? The fool who lies, or the fool who believes the lies?

        Its frustrating, But it isn’t a problem unique to Venezuela. We see it every election cycle in the United States. The voting public hears (and believes) what it wants to. Which is why we have such glorious Ponzi scams like Social Security. God forbid that the Electeds be honest with the public. And heaven forbid should the public do the least bit of checking the facts.

        • “The private sector is the answer”

          You need something else there:

          “The private sector that’s NOT CHAVISTA is the answer”

          chavista enchufados hoard about 80% of Venezuela’s total capital.

    • “I don’t see a way out, until somebody “bitch-slaps” the Venezuelan populace with some cold hard facts, namely that government isn’t your mama and you need to let go of the tit.”

      It’s not “the government isn’t your mama”

      The thing that must be said is “the non chavista govermnent must do everything exactly OPPOSITE of what chavismo has done.”

  4. EL PROBLEMA ES DE RAIZ: “La viveza del venezolano es un suicidio colectivo”

    This article provide an underpinning/root cause for the Venezuelan issue. Just getting rid of Chavismo would be another example of blaming someone else for the problem you created.

    Yes indeed a giant “bitch-slap” is needed but who will deliver that … at this point it looks like it will come from hunger and death.

    • There is no Pinochet on the horizon of Venezuela that I see. For all the blame and accusations leveled at Pinochet, the people he allegedly killed and abused (I haven’t read about the regime), those were very likely the people who would have turned Chile into what Venezuela is today. He brought about the “economic miracle” through, as you say, a “bitch-slap”. Apparently Carlos Andres Perez tried it, but was either not advised well, or was sabotaged. I’m not trying to recommend anything for Venezuela btw, just that some kind of plan is necessary. If by whatever means a new democratically elected government takes power, what is the plan? I think that’s a very reasonable question.

  5. Per Kurowski asks the question that puts the pernil situation in perspective.
    The entire regime and I believe a large portion of the citizenry is morally bankrupt. Not just the pernil policy.
    The regime uses food and medicine as weapons. All of the people that voted for regime candidates in exchange for a few scraps of food, sold out their fellow citizens.
    The Chavistas that were content for others to have their freedom denied, their businesses destroyed and their personal wealth eliminated, are finally enraged. Not because the government is corrupt or the country is on the verge of collapse. Only because they are no longer getting their (however small) piece of the action.
    The MUD probably could have won all the elections if they had offered everyone that voted US $10 if their candidates won.
    One million Bolivars!! For doing nothing for your country but looking after your own interests.
    Chavez understood this. No one can argue that he didn’t get into office legitimately. He knew that promising something for nothing that only cost a small percentage of what was available to steal was the route to power.
    When the people decide that the long term stability of the country, food, medical and personal security, a future for their children and the right to live in a free society is more important than “getting theirs”, things will change.
    The most recent elections were a disgraceful display of the attitude of the Venezuelan electorate. Patriotism requires putting country before self. Sadly there are few Venezuelans that have come to the forefront as true Patriots.

  6. Oh God! I was going to write I was wondering how long it would take for some here to write ‘El Pueblo’ in the usual derogatory manner, I forgot to write that and when I come back I already see the term. Actually, it is not simply what these blokes call “El Pueblo” (their quotes) but as much the so-called elite, including those who use the term El pueblo in English to show people they do not respect and consider inferior.

    Already back in 1800 Alexander von Humboldt noticed the disdainful manner of the guys on top…who, he very well noticed, were as clueless about Venezuela’s real economic potential or weaknesses as anyone could be
    (he mentioned this when referring to some Venezuelans talking so

  7. I am in agreement with the overall tone of the article.
    But, it is a great stretch to imagine if they had not bought the pernils they would have used that money for other, more rational, food purchases.

    • He’s not saying they would. He’s saying they are morally and intellectually bankrupt. And he’s right.

      The pernil story brings to mind a difference between chavismo’s populist autocracy and a country where socialist ideology has taken root which bears mentioning with all the comments about “Cubazuela”.

      In Cuba during the extremely lean years in the 1990s (when I was there), it was beans and rice, right down the line, without respite for the holidays. By comparison, chavismo has this peculiar populist slant that still, to this day, presents the state as a kind of lottery company in which everybody, while getting screwed most of the time, has a chance to win big. It is not equality per se that chavismo presents as its fundamental attraction: it is the possibility of a windfall at any moment, for anyone.

      Pernil is the Christmas Miracle that chavismo needs in the absence of an ability to convince Venezuelans that morros y cristianos without end is a necessary sacrifice in the battle against capitalism and imperialism. Venezuelans will not, as a culture, commit to that war or submit to that propaganda line. They want Christmas.

      Whatever you label it, the pernil gambit is chavismo’s cynicism and moral bankruptcy at its worst.

  8. Kleptozuela’s Animal Farm Saga continues.. George Orwell would be proud:

    “Old Major Chavez, a smart, “purebred” Pig emerged as a charismatic, eloquent farm leader. Major Pig proposed a juicy Pork Revolution to the other animals, alienated under previous MUD administrations, thus inspiring widespread pork cravings, succulent guisos of rebellion.

    Years later, Major Pig’s dimwitted beastly successor, Big Donkey Masburro, attempted to implement the original Master Plan for the Orwellian Kleptozuelan Tropical Farm: In a wildly popular “vote for pork” exchange program, the promise of delicious hams percolated with massive anticipation among the diverse pueblo population. Dreams of a Merry Portuguese Pork Christmas flourished amid a salivating rural nation.
    No one in the Cubazuelan Farm expected the docile Portuguese abastero folks to sabotage the pork festivities. And yet they did, crushing the holiday dreams of a hungry populace.

    The rest is history: Thus exploded the infamous 2018 Kleptozuelan Pork Revolution. “Damn Portuguese!” as Old Major Pig Chavez would say. “Haven’t we animal farm animals learned anything from the French?”

  9. A chicken in every pot was the saying decades ago from corrupt political campaigns. Huey Long I believe.

    Now folks think a free leg of ham makes them special.

    How about over throwing a corrupt dictator and celebrate you feasts afterwards?

    Bah… I am too practical. Build another football stadium and enter another F1 race car … That will build national identity.

    Or just sell drugs instead of oil.

    • I just looked it up:

      Interestingly, Henry IV of France first said it, and it was adapted by Herbert Hoover.

      I don’t think the expression is a signal of socialist freebies though. It’s just a metaphor for prosperity.

  10. Indulging in some appetites which one can no longer afford is of course irrational , but the regime is not interested in being rational if people arent rational , its interested in making people feel happy by indulging their irrational dreams ………when a govt is responsible it ignores peoples irrational dreams and instead seeks to do whats rational and in the long run serves peoples best interest , but this is an irresponsible govt which method of government consists of manipulating peoples irrational dreams , moreover in planting delusions in their minds which might make them more politically pliable ………. Maslows ideas are valid but not in the context of Venezuelan conditions and most ordinary Venezuelans traditional mindset .!!

  11. I agree, Maslow wasn’t quite it.

    People can abide hunger and death. What they can’t stand is feeling like animals. Pernil on christmas represents this. That’s what the gvt understood (since most of those guys have been poor and know what I’m talking about) and why it was such a top priority for them.

  12. I don’t really understand why the author is classifying pernil as some expensive, luxury meat.

    It’s like the cheapest cut of pork there is, and cheaper than most beef cuts.

    And why do I keep seeing “ham” mentioned? Isn’t pernil the shoulder, which ham ain’t? Maybe that’s my confusion,

    • Pernil is the pork’s almost whole leg, ham can come either from shoulder “jamón de espalda” or from the leg too “jamón de pierna”, their flavor differ a bit one from the other.

      Also, pernil is usually sold whole, as huge chunks of 6 or more kilos, so when you see it from the perspective of a deprived purchasing power as the venezuelan’s. then you see why it’s called a “luxury”

      That’s what I understand.

      • Here in the states we have arm shoulder picnic, Boston butt, and ham. Those are the “cuts,” although I think arm shoulder picnic has different names depending on region.

        I did a Boston Butt for New Year’s. About 10 pounds, and took me 12 hours plus!

  13. The post still misses one of the basic points in this whole fraud:

    Most people protesting wasn’t getting the pork for free, they bought it, they PAID for it, and the regime directly and blatantly swindled them.

    Of course the regime and the MUD went out of their way to blame everything on a “racist campaign from the squalid middle-classers”

    Also, it’s been confirmed that the GNB that murdered the pregnant girl was NOT drunk, he was fully aware that he was shooting people at the time.

      • “Buying something heavily subsidized is getting it for free”

        No, it is neither a subsidy when it’s the only legal way to acquire it nor it’s for free when people had to spend about one whole month of their income on it.

        “cheap subsidized dollars with Cadivi.”

        Ah, the old fallacy of “subsidized and preferential dollars”, when it should be addressed as what it is: THE ONLY LEGAL WAY TO GET CURRENCY.

        It’s not my fault that the regime insists in claiming on overvaluing the bolivar, that’s not a subsidy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here