by Gary Ghirardi
In the latest of private sector pressure on the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela another “essential?” commodity has been added to the list of shortages; toilet paper.
With each proceeding month of a popular democracy moving forward, to amend their new constitution to increase the popular power base, the multinationals and industrialists continue their war on the people by manufacturing shortages of basic essential goods. First it was milk, followed by beans,rice, coffee, eggs, chicken and even sugar, all native crops and foods produced in Venezuela. The explanations for this in the corporate press were governmental restrictions on currency mobility, price controls and rising costs externally. Some of this is the case with imported goods but clearly some shortages from internal production were directed at Venezuela’s poor, the major support base of government, hoping to denigrate the support for the reform government and against the price controls instituted by the government.
The nations privately held grocery stores, all foreign companies, are feeling the pressures of price regulation after runaway markups on a hugely U.S. centered import dependency and have protested about interference by the government. This has fueled periodic non-compliance on pricing and fueled a black market in food. Chávez began regulating prices for 400 basic products as a way to counter inflation and protect the poor. In the markets in Caracas it is common to see food imports at twice to three times the cost of the same food products in the U.S. supermarket chains. The shortages are even effecting the national food programs like Mission Mercal who provide basic food stuffs at half the prices of the national food chains.
The same pressures are effecting other governmental reforms as well. When the government re-nationalized the electricity company from a U.S. based energy giant that controlled 70% of South American energy conveyance, the credit card companies eliminated the ability of the country’s middle and upper classes to use their card accounts to pay the monthly bill.
Rising prices on food and shortages in other countries where environmental and fuel prices are being cited would only effect the imported goods for Venezuela as gasoline here is the worlds lowest at 14 cents a gallon. Those private producers in the nation of beans, rice, coffee and sugar have refused to produce in line with government price controls fueling shortages and in the cases of corporate food producers like Polar Corporation have used as their form of protest against the government producing manufactured shortages.
The situation has caused the government to fund its own food production projects through their popular cooperative programs and national processing plants but will require development time to accommodate the national need.
With the constitutional reform referendum 14 days away we can expect similar tactics and worse in the days ahead and after the inevitable passage of these popular reforms by the majority of Venezuelans who will benefit from them.
(Gary Ghirardi lives in Venezuela with his wife. As a former San Diegan, he knows many of the OB Rag bloggers.)