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Inflation and Food Shortages in Venezuela

For residents of Venezuela, food and grocery shortages have become a part of daily life. Outside of many government-subsidized grocery stores, people line up before dawn hoping to purchase what they can before supplies run out. Items such as milk, meat and toilet paper are bought up quickly. The shortages have lasted for more than a year, prompting calls for President Madura to reevaluate the economic policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Though Venezuela is one of the most oil rich nations in the world, it is struggling to mitigate inflation and keep subsidized grocers stocked with products. Many experts say that strict price controls are to blame for the country’s economic problems, while President Maduro insists that it is all part of an effort by the opposition and CIA to destabilize the government and sabotage Venezuela’s oil industry.

Asdrubal Oliveros, an economist at one of Venezuela’s leading consulting firms, told the Guardian that the current crisis is the result of several factors, which include the country’s overreliance on imports and the government price controls. Another factor is the decrease in agricultural production due to the government’s recent land expropriations. “It’s cheaper to import than it is to produce,” Oliveros said. “That’s a perverse model that kills off any productivity.”

Many economists echo Oliveros analysis, saying that the Venezuelan government is not helping the problem by fixing prices so low. When prices are set low, companies and producers are not able to make a profit—this, in turn, leads to a cessation of farming, manufacturing, and production. Originally designed to help Venezuela’s poor and working classes afford food and staples, the price-fixing program has instead led to empty shelves and long queues.

After becoming President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and his ministers sought to reduce the growing wealth disparity in their country. To achieve this, they implemented price controls on certain goods so as to make them cheaper for individuals and families with lower incomes. This step and increased spending on social programs, however, may be contributing to the country’s current economic crisis.

Aggravating the problem is the fact that inflation is increasing at an alarming speed. In August, 12-month interest rates rose to 45.4 percent. This is the highest since Venezuela’s hyperinflation crisis in the mid-1990s. Officials in Maduro’s government have said that they will be considering changes in the country’s economic policies in an effort to combat the rising prices and food shortages in Venezuela.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal