Cuba’s number-one ally: a lot of oil but very little food and other basic products
Nestor Rojas Mavares (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Venezuela entered the new year with long lines of buyers in search of basic food, hygiene and medical products, the mark of worsening shortages the country has been facing for two years and now involve police operatives mobilized to maintain public order.
The lines of buyers form in the early morning and can be seen throughout the day, at a time when the population’s desperate search for increasingly scarce products threatens to unleash mass lootings.
Days after a photographer was detained after a supermarket manager reported him to the police for taking pictures of the empty or half-empty shelves, social networks have been flooded with images showing the long lines of people.
The photos capturing the specter of product shortages reappeared following New Year’s celebrations, while President Nicolas Maduro sought financing for his government in China. Venezuela’s leader is also planning on visiting several OPEC member countries to lay out a strategy aimed at containing the panic unleashed by the drop in oil prices.
In Peking, Maduro announced Chinese investments in Venezuela for some US $ 20 billion, but did not explain whether money will be invested into short-term projects or whether that sum will afford the country liquidity to increase its international monetary reserves, estimated at US $ 22 billion.
Shortages at markets have been accompanied by a 54 and 64 percent inflation rate in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
The managers of private food store chains (ANSA) convened for an emergency meeting with government officials to look for solutions to the problem, but the only thing agreed to was the mobilization of the police to contain crowd violence.
Police units had to be dispatched on Thursday to low-income areas to maintain public order after a number of stores received supplies of diapers and powdered milk (among other high-demand products).
Spokespeople for the government and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) expressed their anger over photographs showing people waiting in long lines outside stores. They declared that these lines of people are part of attempts by the opposition to inflame the passions of Venezuelans and further what they refer to as “economic warfare.”
Authorities have implemented security measures for private supermarkets and government food distribution chains, where line-ups of people grow by the hour.
Ombudsman Tarek William Saab reported that he discussed a manual detailing procedures aimed at maintaining public order with military officials and stated that his office will address reports by buyers directly.
Minister of the Interior Carmen Melendez urged people to remain calm and stressed that the government will guarantee food distribution. “We are offering the people who go out to buy products security,” she said.
The government-run Bicentenario food chain was closed for inventory the first days of the year and, on opening its doors this week, it was overwhelmed by an avalanche of consumers.
One of the largest centers in Caracas, located in Plaza Venezuela, is seeing winding lines of people that stretch across several city blocks.
Some press reports tell of disturbances at some stores sparked off by brawls among buyers competing for products.
“I stood in line for nearly two hours and, when I got into the store, the corn flour had already run out,” Alba Jimenez tells us in Caracas.
Nutrition Minister Carlos Osorio insisted the government plans on distributing more than six million tons of basic food products, including milk, rice, flour, chicken, beef and coffee, this year.
“This government works 24 hours a day to gurantee the food security of our people. We are using all mechanisms available to ensure the effective distribution of food products,” he declared.
Trade Minister Isabel Delgado acknowledged there are flaws in the food distribution network which the government hopes to be able to fix in coming days.
“The Bolivarian [Venezuelan] government and private sector operating in the high spheres of production have been working since last year to guarantee a steady supply of household, personal hygiene, food and medical products, in order to cover all needs,” she stated.
Government official and president of the National Assembly (Congress) Diosdado Cabello affirmed that the “hoarding” of products is part of the “economic war” being used by sectors of the opposition to create discontent among the people and encourage violence.
They’re speculating, hiding products, manipulating distribution networks and carrying out acts of contraband, to the detriment of the people,” he said.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles alerted the government to the waning patience of Venezuelans: “Do not confuse patience with resigning ourselves to standing in line and accepting shortages and chaos, Mr. Nicolas Maduro,” he stated.
“The country wants to hear a plan to overcome shortages, inflation and economic chaos, not more empty talk, or that mockery of an excuse they call the “economic war,” he wrote in his Twitter account.
Shortages are the banner being raised by the two political camps. Economist Jose Guerra, advisor for the opposition party Mesa de Unidad, pointed out that “when I think about the line-ups and the suffering of the people, I conclude that it is no different from what real socialism was and continues to be like.”