Hugo Chavez’s original slogan “motherland, socialism, or death” seems a painfully apt description for Venezuela today, where inflation, soaring prices, and chronic shortages have left millions struggling to put food on the table.
The situation grew worse last month when the Madura Administration started to ration electricity, leaving entire cities in the dark for up to for 4 hours every day.
The dysfunctional economy and recession in the South American OPEC country has forced millions of Venezuelans to stand in line for hours just to get their hands on basic products – some of which they may sell for extra money to make up for the country’s low minimum wage (click here to see Bernie Sanders’s opinion of bread lines).
“You have to get into these never ending lines – all day, 5 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon – to see if you get a couple of little bags of flour or some butter,” says Jhonny Mendez, a 58-year-old taxi driver. “It makes a person want to cry.”
On top of that, Venezuela regulates food purchases through a fingerprint system that prohibits an individual from buying the same regulated food for 2 weeks.
Last Wednesday, the Venezuelan Chamber of Food released a statement confirming that most food producers have only 15 days of food left. This was the last straw for starving populations already short on food and medicine.
In Maracaibo, a city in the western state of Zulia, locals looted shopping malls, pharmacies, grocery stores, and even trucks carrying food through the city. Maracaibo was forced to deploy 2,000 security officers to stop the looters, at least 9 of which were arrested. “There are violent people out there that can harm you,” said Giovanny Villalobos, the city’s governor, as he warned people not to leave their homes.
The situation wasn’t much better in the nation’s capital, where looters were spotted in at least three different areas of the city. According to Twitter posts, looting continued through the night in the industrial zones of Campo Rick, La California, and Buena Vista.
Food production is predicted to slow further in the near future. Venezuela is 300 days overdue on payments to suppliers and local inputs are becoming scarce. Meanwhile, Venezuelans are at an increased risk of sickness and disease as they are forced to adopt unbalanced diets.
“Fruits and vegetables have disappeared from shopping lists. What you buy is what fills your stomach more: 40% of the basic groceries is made up of corn flour, rice, pasta, and fat,” remarks one of the many Venezuelan adults eating only two meals per day.
These incomplete diets will soon lead to health problems and malnutrition – problems Venezuela currently has no way to overcome. Already, Venezuela is seeing a spike is gastritis, poisoning, bacteria and parasites infecting individuals with poor diets.
Government supporters have proudly pointed to improvements in eating under former socialist leader Huge Chavez, who used income from oil sales to subsidize food for the nation’s poor during his 14-year reign.
Oil sales make up almost all of Venezuela’s income. The nation’s current leader, President Nicolas Madura, has faced a dramatic downturn in oil prices that has thrust Venezuela into a recession.
Venezuela’s current minimum wage is around 20% of the cost necessary to feed a family of five.
Editor’s Note: Socialism is a negative feedback system, meaning it always requires outside resources to maintain itself. In this case the outside resource is oil. Venezuela’s productive capacity is below what it requires to live. It will get worse before it gets better.