Venezuela has been suffering from political polarization, a catastrophic crime rate and unparalleled inflation. Now the Latin-American country has another crisis on its hands: There is no toilet paper. Literally, people cannot find toilet paper in the scarcely populated aisles of Venezuela’s grocery stores. The oil-rich country has been dealing with grave shortages in food products such as milk, butter, coffee, cornmeal, and now toilet paper has been added to the long list of hard-to-find simple necessities.
In an interview with Heavy.com, Ana Teresa Alvarez, a retired teacher and grandmother living in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas, said, “I went to a grocery store far away from my house today because they had just brought imported toilet paper. It is so expensive! But I have to buy it, I have no choice. … I’ve been used to the butter and milk shortages, I’d just feed my family something else or find replacements. But there is no replacement for toilet paper. I wouldn’t be surprised if a confrontation occurred. People are getting tired.”
While blaming “political opponents” for the shortages, Nicolas Maduro — Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor — says the government will be importing 50 million rolls to boost supplies. That was little comfort to consumers as imported toilet paper prices are high — reaching to up to three times the regular prices.
Belkys Alonso, a Cuban who immigrated to Venezuela after Castro’s revolution, told Heavy.com, “The irony is that I have to spend all this money and its going down the toilet. Can you believe this? First it was the shortages in electricity, then it was the food and now toilet paper? I am 80 years old. I have never seen anything like this. It’s pitiful.”
Economists explain that Venezuela’s shortages stem from price controls meant to make basic goods available to the poorest parts of society as well as the government’s controls on foreign currency.
Heavy.com talked to Harvard Economics Professor and ex-Venezuelan minister Ricardo Hausmann to understand the economics of it all. He said:
First of all, there are exchange controls so people cannot just buy dollars at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars to the dollar. They need to be authorized to do so and not enough permits have been given. In addition, even when they do authorize the dollars, importers need to wait for about 7 months after the goods enter the country before they actually get them. At the black market rate, dollars are 4 times dearer, so it is too expensive to buy imports with those dollars. In addition there are price controls and many prices are below cost. Producing those goods would imply losing money.”
Venezuela has been suffering from the the tight grasp of a controlling government. There is little freedom in Venezuela not only in the political arena but also in the economic sphere. In fact, price and foreign exchange controls have become key weapons to maintain businesses on a short leash. Some still have the hope for a total change in policy which would end shortages and inflation. For others, the future looks bleak. There is a palpable fear that social unrest and riots will ensue if the government fails to give up any political or economic control.
The Venezuelan people will just have to wait and see….
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