This article reprinted courtesy of Global Voices
Venezuela is one of the principal oil-exporting countries of the world. However, petroleum is not edible and, lamentably, Venezuela’s national food industry is not able to feed its population. So Venezuela is, since its economy stopped having an agricultural focus at the beginning of the 20th century, a country that imports almost everything it consumes, with the exception of a few internal industries producing basic necessities.
The lack of understanding of how these commercial channels operate means that periodically citizens find themselves with a shortage of some products. From 2006 onward, the shelves of Venezuelan markets and supermarkets have been seasonally empty of things like coffee, sugar, milk, chicken, beef, pork, cheese, sardines, oil, beans, caraotas (black beans, the base of our typical dish), and rice, among others. Other products such as the spare parts of vehicles or some medicines are also scarcely available, as Mario Concha reveals in his article Anorexic Revolutionary.
At the moment, the paradox of a “rich country” without the internal production of basic foodstuffs is highlighted by the increase in the consumption of whiskey. Scottish whiskey is available, and in a tour of the liquor stores of the capital, salesmen report higher sales of luxury items.
The problem of not finding something as basic as sugar, was recounted to the Venezuelan blogosfera months back by Consuelo, who blogs about a cafe he has managed for some time.
“Gentlemen, THERE IS NO sugar left, how is that? … recently I read in the blog of Chef Takeshi about his problem finding sugar and I thought of my difficulty finding black beans. I have mentioned that everywhere in Barquisimeto there are sugar plantations … hmmmm, but now there is no sugar…”
A greater crisis came to life with the shortage of beef. It was a problem that dominated the front pages of newspapers and street-side conversations, because it directly impacts consumers and thousands of meat markets across the country. The official declarations of a minister who denied the shortage of supplies, were satirized by RomRod in a brief post [ES]:
“There is no shortage of supplies. Nor is there meat, chicken, or sugar. And milk only from time to time.”
The official measures by the government were to regulate prices of some products, an action regarded by Yosmary as “social justice for all Venezuelans.” It was thought then that the cause of the shortage of basic foodstuffs was due to the fight to control prices and, furthermore, because it caused economic losses to the business class. That was seen as monopolizing and speculation by the production capitals of the country.
In order to end the situation then, the government announced two policies simultaneously: that the organized communities control the salesmen so that they respect the stipulated prices, and to fine, expropriate, or close the meat markets before they themselves, operating at a loss, close down. And so, the country advances towards a process of nationalization of the meat industry. The priest Arturo Peraza denounced in his parish blog the notion that the general population should serve as a “social police” of their own neighbors, or, in this case, local retailers.
“The reading of the legal decree against monopolizing gives the sensation that civil society has become an enemy of the State and they are declaring war. Such a civil society does not consist of the great proprietors of the capital, but the local owner of a wine shop, taxi owners, the butchers, fishermen, the agriculturists, etc..”
The “persecution announcement” also caused discomfort at the neighborhood watch association “Radar de los Barrios”, which declared to the communities that they would not be made “to do the work dirty of the Government [ES].”
The act of asking the community to denounce the shop owners and causing anxiety in the streets was written about, almost jokingly, by Jeanfreddy who reminds us that many retailers are foreign-born. One Venezuelan characteristic is to turn all news into a joke, but it can quickly become classist persecution with elements of xenophobia. If previously people complained to shop owners saying, “You do not know who you’re messing with, you don’t know who I am. I am going to close down this joint, Mr. Portuguese. I know the owner of this building and I am going to have them kick you out,” Jeanfreddy writes on his blog Irresponsibility that:
“Now some Chavista, red beret in hand, will say: “I am going to spread some gossip about you to the Communal Council, you Portuguese *****.”
That conflict with the meat markets, without understanding the production chain behind it, continues generating chaos with regards to meat consumption. There have also been problems in other sectors like poultry, whose “flight” from the supermarkets caught the attention once again of RomRod.
“Is it that some extraterrestrial ship took them away? Or has the bird flu arrived and nobody told us? Or is it one more victim of that famous law that says “if it’s not business I don’t sell it”? I guess I was a bit too late in deciding to start a diet of grilled chicken.”
Apparently, the Venezuelan spirit in times of crisis is to resort to humor. For those who support the government, there is also the use of humor when speaking of the food shortage. One of the economic indicators, as already noted above, has been the increase in consumption. In the last year they were not able to supply all of the vehicles to the automotive market due to such a high demand, and the same has happened in other sectors of luxury items, where consumerism has caused product shortages. Consumption, in a country that is accused from the outside of advancing communism.
Back in December, Luigino warned: “Castro-communism advances in all the forms and colors. We spoke yesterday of how the stocks of car dealerships were exhausted, probably due to the record number of new automobile purchases in our country. Today, it is the cell phone that is hard to come by.” Accompanying his post is YouTube Video from Venezuelan state television in which a group of Chavista comedians make fun of the luxury item shortage. Because today we still lack meat, sugar, and black beans is obtained in the black market.
There are still no answers, and the digital conversation continues. Perhaps, as another blogger mentioned in informal conversation, the shortage of food will help with the strict diets in a country transfixed by beauty.
Translated from Spanish by David Sasaki
Global Voices article: Whiskey We’ve Got, But Where’s the Meat?
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