Who cares about toilet paper when there is not food on the table?

In Venezuela, to fill the grocery cart one needs to do a procession, as if it was a visit to the Hugo Chavez tomb. But not only that, shoppers can’t buy certain products even if they can afford them. For several weeks now toilet paper has been one among a list of products absent from the shelves.

The shortage of this product is not yet so cyclic as flour, chicken, deodorant, corn oil, sugar and cheese. The toilet paper is included in a list of goods sold at prices regulated by the Executive, in accordance with the provisions of February 2012 by the National Superintendence of Costs and Prices. Since then the agency decided to reduce the size of the rolls and keep supplying the demand. But last April shelves emptied.

To placate the deficit the Government announced it would import the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper. “We tell our people to calm down and realize that they should not be manipulated by the media campaign about the shortage,” said Trade Minister Alexander Fleming.

The official justified the absence of toilet paper with an account that has caused all sorts of jokes in social networks. He said “there is no deficiency in the production” because the monthly consumption is 125 million rolls.

“How did he know that number?” Asked Cesar Miguel Rondon, the journalist most listened to in radio radio Venezuela? He then read a message from his Twitter account: “If that account is true, the consumption needs to be regulated to 1.5 rolls per person.”

The Government believes that the shortage is a result of nerve shopping and an opposition campaign to destabilize Maduro, whose legitimacy has been questioned because of the narrow margin with which he won over his opponent, Henrique Capriles, in the elections on April 14 as well as allegations of irregularities in the act of voting.

In return, the business says the shortage is due to exchange controls in force in the country for a decade and the political instability, which discourages investment. It is a constant confrontation. The clearest answer to this situation was given four years ago, in an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, where the Planning Minister Jorge Giordani said: “Socialism is built from the shortage.”

Amidst this shortage crisis a meeting took place between President Nicolas Maduro, and the president of Empresas Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, the main staple food producer in Venezuela. Previous to the meeting, Maduro had said that Empresas Lorenzo, a private conglomerate, was hoarding the products and was responsible for the widespread shortages in the country.

Over the weekend the Government further stated that there was suspicion about the group’s actions. Empresas Polar owner possesses the second largest fortune of the country and occupies the position 329 on the Forbes list of the world’s millionaires. According to the Venezuelan Executive, Empresas Polar had cut production for the local market of precooked food, with which the famous “arepa” is made.

Against all odds, Mendoza held a press conference to dismantle the arguments of the Venezuelan Executive. He said his group was operating at full capacity and that its main product, Harina Pan — the industry leader with about 48% of the production of Venezuela, was missing from the shelves due to inadequate production of other competitors. He suggested that the Government rented or sold any of the plants that did not work well. Maduro took that response as a provocation.

On Tuesday, while speaking to a group of flood victims, Maduro said that Mendoza’s position had seemed arrogant and that the meeting he would have wth him would shed fire. “He returns as a candidate, though he says it is not political,” said Maduro. It was the same tone he had used after Mendoza’s challenge on Sunday when he wrote in his Twitter account: “I hope this meeting will establish a commitment to deliver for the country. I will waiting for you Lorenzo Mendoza.”

All that seemed to have been erased yesterday. Both Mendoza and the Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza agreed at the end of the talks that they had spoken in good terms about the problem of the distribution chain and that both sides were committed to working to their fullest potential. “The meeting was extremely cordial and it was clearly demonstrated that we are working at full capacity,” Mendoza said later in a statement.

To stimulate the production and address the shortage, the government increased by 20% the maximum selling prices of products like chicken, beef and dairy,, a measure requested by food producers. The prices of major staples are regulated by the state.

Additionally, and with the aim of strengthening food reserves, the Minister of Food, Félix Osorio, who proposed to Maduro the idea of increasing prices, announced that in the course of this week a new  shipment of 760,000 tons of food will arrive in Venezuela. The products, he said, are oil, whole milk powder, beef, canned tuna, sardines and raw sugar. The shipment, Osorio said, is valued at 466 million euros.

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