Venezuela can’t spare a square.
The South American country has experienced a slew of shortages from milk to cornmeal. Now, Venezuela is running out of toilet paper, the Associated Press reports.
“This is the last straw,” Manuel Fagundes, a shopper looking for toilet paper in downtown Caracas, said. “I’m 71 years old and this is the first time I’ve seen this.”
Venezuelan officials say they plan to import 50 million toilet paper rolls to satisfy the increased demand for the basic staple item, CNN reports. Lately, toilet paper has disappeared off store shelves while the government and private companies blame each other for the shortage.
Venezuelan Minister of Commerce Alejandro Fleming recently appeared on state-run TV in an attempt to calm the population's fears. He blamed the shortage on a media campaign that induced public panic.
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"There is no deficiency in production, but an excessive demand generating purchases by a nervous population because of a media campaign that has been created to undermine the country," Fleming said. "We are going to saturate the market so that our people will calm down and understand that they should not let themselves be manipulated by the media that says there are shortages."
The toilet paper shortage highlights the struggle of Venezuelans to handily find everyday household items. Last month, the country’s scarcity index rose to 21 percent, the highest since Venezuela's central bank started the tracking measure in 2009, according to the BBC.
“I’ve been looking for [toilet paper] for two weeks,” Cristina Ramos, a shopper in Caracas, said. “I was told that they had some here and now I’m in line.”
Economists say the shortages are caused by a government subsidy program implemented by the late president Hugo Chavez. In 2003, the government implemented a price control program aimed at making basic goods available to the country’s poorest citizens.
Indeed, the government-run Mercal supermarkets in impoverished areas sell food at a fraction of the price found at private supermarkets. At Mercal, a kilogram of pasta costs 2 bolivares, or about 30 cents, ten times less than the average price.
In 1999, when Chavez came into power, more than 15 percent of the population was undernourished – now it’s less than 5 percent, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Yet, Venezuela, which faces economic collapse, still imports 70 percent of its food.
"We have enough land to turn Venezuela into a food-producing country,” Opposition leader Henrique Capriles told BBC, before narrowly losing the election to Nicolas Maduro. “Oil needs to be a lever for development. We have 30 million hectares of fertile land. We are importing fish ... and look at how large our coast is!"