Massive Shortages in Venezuela Are Closer Than They Appear

Fuel shortage and lockdowns are reigniting the regime’s controlling instincts—and overwhelming the people’s capacity for survival

Photo: Carlos Jaimes

By now, all Venezuelans are used to shortages and stockpiling basic goods. We have even become experts at recognizing the early signs of a shortage and, truth be told, some of us buy goods we don’t need just because there’s a long queue for a certain product at the store and maybe all those people are onto something.

This has become our daily bread.

When shelves were stocked with a large array of products last year (due to the widespread use of dollars in Venezuela), some said the economy was on its path to recovery. Others, like myself, were doubtful and waiting for the next wave of shortages.

Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few signs that massive shortages of basic goods are indeed on their way.

See, even though price controls were never lifted, the regime had been turning a blind eye for the last couple of years and giving private producers room for price maneuver. But a few days ago, chavismo announced that the price of 27 basic goods would be reviewed and fixed. Moreover, they started raiding supermarkets in Caracas, to make sure the fixed prices were being respected.

This is the same modus operandi we’ve seen time and time again.

Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few signs that massive shortages of basic goods are indeed on their way.

And even before the government started acting out, there was a very clear sign of the things to come: a massive fuel shortage. No gas means there’s no means for workers to commute, and if companies have to buy gas in the black market at high prices (between $1 and $3 per liter, which used to be basically free), their production and/or distribution costs will rise drastically, making it tough to comply with fixed prices.

The regime’s attempts to feed the most vulnerable Venezuelans have always come up short; Misión Alimentación, which had over 20,000 locations by 2015, was eroded by incompetence and corruption, and it slowly disappearedand the distribution of CLAP boxes is irregular and insufficient. Maduro may try to saddle the private sector, to control the distribution of the little goods produced in Venezuela, but given the drastic drop in oil prices, his regime lacks enough resources to cover local demand with imports (a regular practice since Chávez’s government) and Venezuela’s international credit is constrained by U.S. sanctions.

Massive shortages are closer than they seem, and we Venezuelans have to try to help each other. Because who expects the regime will?