Venezuela’s Savage Scarcity
Although not recognized by the Maduro administration, Venezuela’s inflation rate reached almost 100% in the first quarter of 2015.
In Venezuela the government controls the body responsible for publishing real inflation data. That is why it is impossible to know the official inflation rate in the country. However, it is estimated that in early 2015, Venezuelans already had a 90% inflation rate on basic food items.
In a statement released last Friday, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela rejected the demand from an NGO that that would have forced the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) to inform the public about the real rate of inflation.
Although in the past publishing the inflation rate was an unimportant event, the performance of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has become a state secret in Venezuela.
The last officially reported inflation rate was last February when the BCV recorded a monthly variation of the CPI of 5.6% compared to January 2015. Since then, the Central Bank, controlled by the Executive, has gone six months without publishing these figures.
The Maduro regime usually applies a tourniquet to the flow of official statistics, as it considers, it could revive the political debate and feed the “media conspiracy” that regularly denounces government secrecy on the real state of the economy.
The same practice used to hide the real inflation rate is now being used to conceal the number of murders and other forms of crime since 2005, as well as the number of people that got sick with dengue or chikungunya.
Last July the organization Transparency Venezuela -associated with Transparency International- submitted to the Supreme Court a “demand for abstention” against the Central Bank President, Nelson Merentes, a mathematical finance minister in the cabinets of Hugo Chavez and Maduro. The lawsuit accused Merentes of “breach of obligation in the publication of key economic statistics of the country.”
However, in its decision 935 of August 4, the Political-Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by claiming that the applicants had not taken sufficient steps to obtain the data from the Central Bank. The NGO, in a press release distributed last Friday, described the decision as as with little or no surprise “but nonetheless not outrageous.”
So the official silence regarding inflation, one of the scourges that most cringes everyday life in Venezuela, has now received official court approval.
President Nicolas Maduro rarely refers to the phenomenon, and when he does, it relates it to a “weapon of economic war”, that according his opinion, the speculator bourgeoisie wages against the revolution.
Inflation in Venezuela is acquiring a kind of supernatural status: people feel its effects, but cannot determine or understand its existence.
For Venezuelans, one of the consequences of not knowing the real inflation rate is being unable to access basic food products.
People need to travel great distances to find basic food products. Something as simple as a water bottle is not easily available and at times is only found in private clubs, but not in the supermarket shelves.
For several months, bakeries and supermarkets have had almost no bottled drinking water to sell to the public.
In recent weeks, the lines grew longer it was hard for people not to go to the black market to stock up. Outside the watchful eye of the Maduro regime manages the most savage form of government.
The price of mineral water is at least twice real value. So far in August, with the increasing scarcity and shortages, costs are skyrocketing, while the salary of Venezuelans remains at its lowest.
In some parts of the country, Venezuelans seem to live in a war zone. People are only allowed to by a certain amount of food and their purchases are determined by the last number of their identity card.
If a family runs out of milk for their children, they need to wait until it is their turn again. But even when people are allowed to purchase basic food products, sometimes milk and other basic items are not available in the supermarket.
In some parts of the country, informal vendors constantly target families to sell them products at twice their market price, but only people with cash in hand are able to purchase from them. Those who are lucky to have money do not hesitate and buy what they can.
Nicolas Maduro’s government sets prices at a level that, according to him, is fair for everyone, which in the case of staple food items, must be printed on the containers and packagings of the products.
This indicator is set by adding production costs plus non-production costs and a maximum profit margin of 30% of the production cost. However, such prices are not always maintained because of runaway inflation, whose official indicator is not known since December.