The neighborhood of Santa Cruz in Caracas had not seen corn flour in months … until Thursday, when the staple product finally reached grocery stores in the area. It did so quietly – residents found out by seeing their neighbors carrying bags of flour home. It is common practice in Caracas: keep an eye on what everybody carries, because it might bring good news.
The economic crisis in Venezuela, which has been crippling the country since the death of Hugo Chávez in March, has translated to a continual lack of basic goods: oil, milk, sugar, toilet paper and the aforementioned flour. The scarcity average in Venezuela now stands at a whooping 20 percent – a number that had not been reached in four years, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela. “A normal number is 5 percent,” economist Ángel Ayalón told Spanish newspaper El País. In September, Venezuela’s scarcity rate reached 21.2 percent.
The country has entered such a critical state for a combination of factors. Strict control from the government and the underground market, which illegally transports Venezuelan products to Colombia, are the most prominent. The steep devaluation of the local currency is also a concern: the bolivar, with a 31.74 percent drop against the U.S. dollar, is the third-most harmed currency in the world, has not helped either.
The Central Bank’s latest report delivers a stark portrait: 71 percent of grocery stores were voided of flour; 86 percent of milk; 85 percent of sugar. Supermarket managers are not allowed to hold stock of any products, lest the government fine them. As soon as new cargo arrives, it has to be sold in one day. This is usually not an issue, since storeowners more often need to impose sales quotas on certain items.
President Nicolás Maduro insists that he is victim of an “economic war” in which businesses refuse to produce the necessary amounts to meet demand, and the opposition leads campaigns to promote consumption that cannot be met.
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The minister of food, Carlos Osorio, said on Thursday that during the next several months more than 400,000 kilos of produce will be imported from Nicaragua, Argentina and Brazil.