Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 29th 2015 Contents JANUARY 2015 • WEEK FIVE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
REGIONAL | BG19
The line is perhaps a thousand people
long. It snakes around the dusty, rub-
bish-strewn back lot of a giant super-
market in the heart of Caracas,
Venezuela s capital.
The store is the flagship of the government-run
Bicentenario chain, part of a project started by former
President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, and con-
tinued by his successor, President Nicolás Maduro,
to seize control of the production, importation and
distribution of food. Never again, they swore, would
opponents of the government be able to limit access
to food, as they did during a business-led strike in
Now, though, it is the regime s hare-brained policies
that are plucking food from citizens mouths.
"I came here for milk," said a young mother from
El Valle, a working-class district a mile or two to the
southwest. "In El Valle there s nothing."
She was carrying a tiny baby, while her 4-year-old
daughter helped with the modest purchases she had
managed to make. Today the Bicentenario had sugar,
maize flour, chicken and toilet paper at giveaway, gov-
ernment-controlled prices, but no milk.
At 9:30 am customers who had begun lining up
at 6:00 were finally emerging, as hundreds more
waited outside a narrow gate in the 10-foot-high
fence around the lot. Uniformed police kept order,
and most customers seemed resigned rather than bel-
Nonetheless, the shortages are undermining support
for the autocratic regime s "21st-century socialist"
experiment, especially among the poor, its intended
beneficiaries. As lines lengthen across the country,
there have been protests and some looting and violence.
Fights break out, the strong snatch purchases from
the weak and shots reportedly have been fired on
All of this is happening amid a deliberate haze of
uncertainty. Supermarkets have banned customers
from photographing empty shelves, presumably under
government pressure. Police have arrested journalists
and charged them with disturbing the peace as they
tried to report on food shortages. Several state governors
have forbidden overnight lines, perhaps sensing that
it looks more shameful then than during daylight.
Government stores limit customers to shopping one
day a week, assigning the day according to the last
number of their identity cards.
The government insists that it is the victim of "eco-
nomic warfare" waged by the opposition. According
to one official, the children of the rich are "infiltrating
people into the lines" to cause trouble.
The real source of trouble, private-sector economists
agree, is price and exchange controls imposed by the
government, along with the nationalization of food
processing and farmland. The diving price of oil, vir-
tually Venezuela s only export, means that the gov-
ernment no longer can import its way out of trouble.
Earnings of foreign exchange are expected to drop by
US$35 billion this year, from US$65 billion in 2014.
With opinion polls indicating that more than 80
per cent of Venezuelans blame the president for the
situation, the opposition Democratic Unity alliance
senses an opportunity. Last year its former presidential
candidate, Henrique Capriles, opposed street protests
led by a rival Democratic Unity faction, which left 43
people dead. He argued for waiting until the full effects
of the crisis were felt by the poorest communities,
where support for the government has been strongest.
On January 14 Capriles called a press conference
to say that these differences had been overcome. On
January 24 Democratic Unity will stage a mass "empty
pots" rally against the government, he said. Divisions
within the opposition are one reason why Venezuela s
"Bolivarian" regime has held onto power since 1999.
The signs of greater unity suggest that the opposition
may begin to pose a more serious challenge, starting
with legislative elections this year.
After spending much of January on a trip to China,
Russia and the Middle East, Maduro returned defiant.
Despite having failed to persuade OPEC leaders to
act in support of oil prices, and with little or no fresh
money from China to pay the bills, the president
insisted that the solution is more revolution.
He announced that food distributors would be given
an ultimatum: Fix the supply problems or face "the
full weight of the law." For the umpteenth time he
promised to announce economic measures to alleviate
the crisis. His annual speech before the National
Assembly on January 21, a day later than planned,
was characteristically long on rhetoric and short on
The hardships of daily life are fraying Venezuelans
patience. Catholic bishops, never friendly to the regime,
published an unusually hard-hitting pastoral letter
this month that laid the blame for the crisis squarely
on the "totalitarian and centralist system." Its architects
may be powerless to prevent its collapse. @2015 The
Economist Newspaper Ltd. Distributed by the New
York Times Syndicate
NCB Global Finance Limited
Trinidad and Tobago
HEAD OF OPERATIONS
QUALIFICATIONS & EXPERIENCE
In Venezuela, empty
shelves, empty rhetoric
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