Venezuela plagued by shortages

A drop in oil prices has left Venezuela’s economy in tatters, and the lack of hard currency and inflation have starved the country of food, medicine and consumer goods.

McDonald’s Corp.’s largest franchisee has had to stop selling the Big Mac in Venezuela as it can’t source the bread it needs to make the famous sandwich.
Buenos Aires-based Arcos Dorados Holdings Inc., which operates more than 2,000 McDonald’s restaurants throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, said on Thursday that the problem was temporary and that other menu options were available.
“McDonald’s Venezuela is working to resolve this temporary situation,” Daniel Schleiniger, a spokesman for Arcos Dorados, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Together with our supplier, we are evaluating the best options that will allow us to continue serving high quality food to our customers.”
Shortages of everything from rice to toilet paper have worsened over the past several months in Venezuela, with reports of looting and protests on the rise. Venezuela’s economy will contract 10 percent in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, with inflation accelerating to around 700 percent.
Gabriel Perales arrived in Caracas looking for a Big Mac because the McDonald’s in his town of Zaraza in Guarico state is always closed. “This is wrong, like everything in Venezuela, because of shortages,” Perales, 36, said at the McDonald’s in the Ciudad Tamanaco shopping mall. “I just found out there are no Big Macs. They gave me the other burger. Now McDonald’s has problems with flour shortages. Who would have thought?”

hile most advanced economies struggle to lift inflation, none would want Venezuela‘s situation: Consumer-price inflation is forecast to hit 480% this year and top 1,640% in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund.

A shortage of medical supplies means infants and other sick patients are dying of treatable illnesses. Soldiers guard empty grocery store shelves. Inflation is so bad, the government has had to order bolivars by the planeload.

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive.

“This is savagery,” said Pedro Zaraza, a car-oil salesman who watched a mob mass on Friday outside a supermarket, where it was eventually dispersed by the army. “The authorities are losing their grip.

As Caracas extends its declared state of economic emergency, it’s no wonder many economists say the nation will soon have to ask the IMF for a bailout. It’s gotten so bad, the government this month handed over control of food stocks to the military, ceding even more power to the armed forces.

But Venezuela, whose government severed ties with the IMF nearly a decade ago under its former socialist autocratic leader, Hugo Chávez, hasn’t tried to restore relations with the world’s emergency lender.

“There has been no change in Venezuela’s relationship with the fund,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Thursday. While the IMF has urged Caracas to reestablish a relationship, “the Venezuelan authorities have not contacted us,” he said.

China, seeking to take advantage of poor political relations that many African and Latin American nations have with the U.S. and Western-based institutions like the IMF, has been giving Venezuela and other commodity exporters cheap loans to help tide them through the commodity slump. Last year, the country supposedly secured $10 billion in cheap credit to help keep it afloat.

More than 100,000 Venezuelans, some of whom drove through the night in caravans, crossed into Colombia over the weekend to hunt for food and medicine that are in short supply at home.

It was the second weekend in a row that Venezuela’s socialist government opened the long-closed border with Colombia, and by 6 am Sunday, a line of would-be shoppers snaked through the entire town of San Antonio del Tachira. Some had traveled in chartered buses from cities 10 hours away.

Venezuela’s government closed all crossings a year ago to crack down on smuggling along the 1,378-mile (2,219 kilometer) border. It complained that speculators were causing shortages by buying up subsidized food and gasoline in Venezuela and taking them to Colombia, where they could be sold for far higher prices.

here has been a 24 percent increase in protests — roughly 19 demonstrations a day — throughout Venezuela in which six people have died in the first half of 2016 when compared to last year, according to a report by the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.

The local non-governmental organization on Wednesday reported 3,057 protests have been recorded in Venezuela within the first six months of 2016. The figure does not include 416 incidents of looting or attempted looting nationwide.

Security forces clash with people trying to reach Venezuela's presidential palace to protest against the severe food and medicine shortages in Caracas in June.

“In these six months the Venezuelan streets have been the scene of many massive demonstrations to demand the human right to food,” the OVCS writes in the report. “The government’s response to these protests has been repression.”

About 24 percent of protests were to “demand basic services in residential dwellings,” the OVCS said. Water shortages, electricity blackouts, and little to no Internet or phone services have affected millions of Venezuelans.

Eighteen percent of protests were held over labor rights, while 15 percent of protests were held over crime. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, which is estimated to be up to one killing for every 28,000 people.

About 10 percent of protests were related to politics while 6 percent were related to education rights.

Anti-government demonstrators accuse Maduro of clinging to power as his country crumbles.
People throughout the country lack access to food and basic healthcare.
At times, they can’t even turn on the lights — the government says extreme drought has hampered the country’s hydroelectric capabilities.
There are product shortages; there is raging inflation that has annihilated salaries; and there is rampant violent crime.”



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