Photo: Nazaret Torres

The Machiques municipality in Perijá has 10,361 km2 of territory and productive land, the largest in Zulia State, and it has always dealt with livestock… until now. Meat has been scarce in a municipality dedicated to producing it for the entire Zulia State.

Through a Presidential Decree, the National Bureau for the Defense of Socio-Economic Rights (Sundde) published the prices of cuts of beef as part of the economic measures implemented by President Nicolás Maduro. The announcements imposed a Bs.S. 90 price tag on the kilo of beef steak and boneless loin, commonly known in Machiques as “pulpón” and “entre canto” respectively. Citizens haven’t seen these products in butcher’s shops for over three weeks.

The numbers don’t fit, that’s why many shops here have no meat. We’re doing wonders sacrificing part of our profits.

Juan Carlos Perrotta, head of the Association of Industrial Retailers of Machiques de Perijá, blamed shortages on Maduro’s measures and said: “We depend on the prices of the dead animal’s meat, then we make the cuts and depending on that, we establish a percentage of the price. The cost of the dead animal is Bs.S. 700 and Bs.S. 750, but we were already getting them for Bs.S. 1,000. The numbers don’t fit, that’s why many shops here have no meat. We’re doing wonders sacrificing part of our profits.”

Local Aljadis Benjumea said: “This is a livestock area and there’s no meat. The last time I bought a kilo of meat was three weeks ago at Bs.S. 120, and I’m not talking about good quality beef.”

Meanwhile, José Luis Mauris, owner of a restaurant in the municipality said: “We only see meat on TV. I have a restaurant and it’s closed because there’s no meat but I still have to pay my employees”. For William, a livestock farmer in the area, prices must be deregulated to create more supply and allow a free exchange of supply and demand. Other livestock farmers agree: the current price doesn’t cover production costs. “I think that meat should be between Bs.S. 260 and 280 per kilo,” said William.

A meeting was organized between the region’s butchers and municipal institutions, to discuss the problem. According to Perrotta, they decided to forego part of their revenues. “We get 19% of profit for the final product instead of 30%.”

Perrotta explains: “We buy the dead animal, which weighs 250 kilos. After cutting it, 180 kilos remain, and that’s what we sell. We have to play with that so we can make some profit.”

Livestock farmers have also been affected by lack of internet and mobile signal. The inhabitants report that the Movilnet platform has been down for four months, because the transmission equipment at the 40th km in Machiques de Perijá has been stolen. Shop owners have resorted to using cell phones connected to points of sale that work as landline phones, but this only works with 2G technology; if that fails, the phones stop working.

The leaders of various beef associations met with Machiques mayor Betty Zuleta, to discuss the matter.

On Monday, September 17, the leaders of various beef associations met with Machiques mayor Betty Zuleta, to discuss the matter and she guaranteed she’d travel to Caracas and have a meeting with CANTV’s manager.

In view of the problem, the regional government didn’t offer a solution and instead, made it worse: during a rally, governor Omar Prieto threatened to expropriate the shops of any butcher who doesn’t buy the product from Zulia State’s main slaughter houses. He also said that the butchers had to have slaughter certificates and invoices.

But, where can someone get legitimate slaughter certificates? Ideally, one would go the Agriculture Ministry, responsible for issuing the slaughter certificates in order to send cattle to the slaughterhouse. The other method is visiting the Health Department, in the Food Hygiene Division of the Machiques Hospital, and then go to the National Guard headquarters to get the permit. But in Machiques, most producers hire fixers to make fake certificates for them.

According to Felipe, a manager in a farm, “There has to be sanitary control. That’s another mess.” Almost nobody in Machiques, either large or small producers, are solvent in animal health. “In order to get a certificate, we need to have the updated vaccine against aphtose fever, brucellosis and hemorrhagic septicemia, but that’s a lot of money. So, what do we do? We hire people who forge the slaughter certificates, an agronomist signs it and that’s it.  A friend of mine had to pay Bs.S. 2,000 (Bs.F. 200 million) for a certificate. I recently forged one too.”

Aphtose fever vaccines are nowhere to be found, so they’re smuggled from Colombia. “Some time ago there was an outbreak of that disease in the south of the Maracaibo Lake,” said Felipe.

The government hasn’t implemented vaccination campaigns, so the country isn’t allowed to export meat.

The government hasn’t implemented vaccination campaigns, so the country isn’t allowed to export meat. There are health parameters abroad, established by the World Health Organization (WHO), that require our livestock to be free of that ailment.

The meat sector isn’t the only one under duress. Livestock related products are also difficult to find. “There were three milk processing plants here: one of them was Camprolac. I worked there in the 80s, and every day we got 2,800,000 litres of processed milk. Parmalat processed eight or ten million. After it was nationalized, Parmalat was reduced to nothing,” said Felipe.

Meanwhile, citizens are literally hunting for meat, just like in prehistoric times.

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