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Venezuela's Still Suffering an Extreme Toilet Paper Shortage

Venezuela's Still Suffering an Extreme Toilet Paper Shortage
Reuters

In Venezuela, grocery shopping has become a game of chance. Since the country imposed price controls on goods in 2003, there have been unpredictable shortages of staples like milk, rice and cooking oil. 

And now, the country is running low on another essential: toilet paper. This particular shortage has shoppers outraged. As one woman told USA Today, "Call me a counterrevolutionary but there are certain things that are essential and toilet paper is one of them. What do they expect us to use? Banana leaves?"

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames the shortages on hoarding and anti-government forces attempting to destabilize the country. But economists point to a different culprit -- the government itself. As The Atlantic's Jordan Weissmann explains:

In 2003, then President Hugo Chavez slammed currency controls into place to prevent money from fleeing the country while government seized land and corporate assets. Those rules have made it harder to buy imports. Meanwhile, price caps meant to make basic staples affordable to the poor are so low that, for many products, they don't pay for the cost of production. 

Nobody's going to make toilet paper if they'll lose money selling it. 

For now, the government is trying to quell anger -- last month it ordered an emergency shipment of 50 million rolls. "We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down," Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming said, according to the Guardian. They're also trying to tamp down on the black market. The government recently announced that police had seized 2,450 bales of toilet paper, 1,850 gallons of fruit juice and 400 packages of diapers from a warehouse near Caracas.

With the shortages, lines at neighborhood stores can grow out the door and down the block as word spreads of a new arrival of goods. One Venezuelan told the Guardian that she has paid cashiers to text her whenever a new shipment of milk arrives. According to the Financial Times, the country has the highest per capita spending on personal care products in South America. 

Via Reuters, a look at the typical grocery shopping experience:
 


A consumer carries products at the state-run supermarket "Bicentenario" in Caracas June 4, 2013. A Venezuelan state is testing a system to limit purchases of food and other staples, local media reported on Tuesday, in a move that officials defended as necessary to stop contraband trade but opposition critics slammed as Cuban-style rationing. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


A man carries toilet paper at a supermarket in Caracas May 17, 2013. Supplies of food and other basic products have been patchy in recent months, with long queues forming at supermarkets and rushes occurring when there is news of a new stock arrival. The situation has spawned jokes among Venezuelans, particularly over the lack of toilet paper. The government announced this week it was importing 50 million rolls to compensate for "over-demand due to nervous buying." (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


Supermarket staff work next to partially empty shelves of toilet paper in Caracas May 16, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


A worker packs chicken imported from Argentina into a freezer at the state-run supermarket "Bicentenario" in Caracas June 4, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


Women reach for toilet paper at the state-run supermarket "Bicentenario" in Caracas June 4, 2013. A(Jorge Silva/Reuters)


People wait in line as they buy toilet paper in a super market in Caracas May 17, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


A man carries toilet paper at a supermarket in Caracas May 17, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


Women leave the state-run supermarket "Bicentenario" after shopping in Caracas June 4, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


An army reservist checks a receipt at the exit of the state-run supermarket "Bicentenario" in Caracas June 4, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


A woman walks past an empty section where toilet paper should be on display in a super market in Caracas May 17, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


Women wait in line as they buy toilet paper at a supermarket in Caracas May 17, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)


Consumers walk in the state-run supermarket "Bicentenario" in Caracas June 4, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Keywords: Venezuela, Caracas

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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