Plenty of coffee in the coffee houses and bakeries in Caracas. In the supermarkets or grocery stores? Very rare in the last few months. This is hardly surprising when, in the last week, the authorities uncovered more than 1,000 tons of ground coffee and roasted coffee beans waiting to be spirited away to Colombia. In Falcón state 15 tons of coffee was found; in Lara state a supplier and packaging company had 500 tons standing idle in his warehouse; in neighboring Portuguesa state a further 460 tons were discovered hidden in a warehouse and being sold as “gourmet coffee” which is almost 6 times the official price for standard ground coffee when there is, is fact, very little difference.
At the other end of country in Anzoategui state, the National Guard found 91 tons of food, personal hygiene and cleaning products. In this haul the authorities found 50,600 kilos of corn flour; 23,180 kilos of wheat flour; 9,100 kilos of rice; 3,510 kilos of pasta; 4,700 liters of vegetable cooking oil and 830 cans of fish. We could not detect if arrests were made.
Interestingly enough cooking oil has suddenly become easy to find in Caracas – BUT, as this game continues, now white rice has vanished and all you can find is brown rice. Venezuela exported rice last year so where has it gone? Has it all been eaten suddenly?!
A smaller haul of hoarded basic products was found in Catia in the west of Caracas on Saturday. Local people noted something strange about movements at night in a warehouse and alerted the Superintendent of Fair Price whose tram took the corrective action and placed three individuals in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office for hoarding 33 tons of basic products.
In this economic war being waged by the business sector against its own customers, it is not just food that is hoarded. In recent months it has been difficult to find motor oil as it was being hidden and sold at speculative prices. In Guatire – a satellite town on the outskirts of Greater Caracas – the authorities decommissioned 967 liters of motor oil along with hundreds of kilos of corn flour and other personal hygiene products such as the “impossible-to-find shampoo” and bath soap. Investigations continue to try and locate the owner of the warehouse.
This hoarding and sabotage have had their effects throughout the country. Our contacts in La Victoria and San Mateo in the State of Aragua, about an hour and a half west of Caracas, report similar problems.
Yusmary, a homemaker and mother of two children works as a house cleaner outside the home and her husband works in a panaderia. The family lives in the municipality of Bolivar in San Mateo and reports that for one month the following products are either difficult to find or completely absent from the retail markets: milk, harina pan (corn flower), sugar (San Mateo is surrounded by sugar cane fields), toilet tissue, cooking oil, laundry detergent, bathroom soap, shampoo and conditioner, razors, skin cream and butter. Yusmary writes,
“These products arrive with very little frequency and when they appear in the markets one must arrive early and stand in queues for long periods of time to purchase them. The other problem is that the stores don’t regulate how much of a particular product one can buy. So families who have done without harina pan for example, buy large quantities and stock up, fearing that it won’t be available again for a long time to come. Others who peddle these products from kiosks to the people on the street buy large quantities for resale at high, illegal prices. So the attack on the food supply and other products is becoming endogenous, either by design of the opposition or a natural outgrowth of their hoarding and selective distribution. All these problems are part of an ongoing attack by the opposition and the people know it.”
Most Venezuelans rely on cooking gas delivered to their homes in tanks by government distributors in trucks labeled “Gas Comunitario.” Yusmary also reports that for one month they have not received any cooking gas. She said that she and her neighbors see the government gas trucks pass their homes without stopping to make deliveries. They compensate by cooking on electric hot plates but their electricity is cut off. Four times in the week past, their electricity was cut off for around two hours each time and they could not cook.
Like Gas Comunitario or Gas PDV, electricity is provided by the government’s Corpoelec company. These are either examples of either government inefficiency or individuals working for the “fifth column” operating inside public institutions, paid to disrupt basic services in efforts to turn the people against the government. We are convinced of the latter case, based upon our experience with these two agencies and also with some services provided by CAN-TV, the government’s Cable TV and Internet Service Provider (ISP.
La Victoria, “The City of Youth,” is located between Caracas and San Mateo with a population of about 300,000. In January, different parts of La Victoria lose their electricity on almost a weekly basis. Sometimes power is cut off for an a few minutes or an hour or a day. Even when electricity is lost for a few minutes, it means that computers are shut down in stores when they cannot charge things to customer’s credit and debit cards and have to reboot their systems. The longer electricity is off, the greater the losses. For example, on Tuesday of this week there was a blackout for several hours of a 6 block area which included restarurants and a large supermarket.
Also, for 3 days this month, cooking gas was not delivered to the upscale urbanization of Morichal and for longer periods of time in the popular areas of La Victoria.
Intercable, C.A., is the largest private internet service and cable TV provider in Venezuela. We have contacts in Caracas and La Victoria who rely on this company for these services. Intercable internet services are much slower than the high speed connection for which customers pay and several times a week in La Victoria there is no service at all. During those times, people have to go to the street where free government Wi-Fi services are ubiquitous. In the second week of January, Intercable completely cut off their services for 8 days. We visited their offices twice that week and found the building locked up with a sign on the door, “No Hay Sistema.” The service was restored the following week. Intercable does not automatically discount their monthly bill based upon days when services were not provided. Instead, customers must report to them the hours and days when they did not receive services and Intercable then either discounts the bill or blames it on government electricity outages.
While the Superintendant of Fair Prices, the National Guard, the Attorney General’s Office, and local citizens are all working together to discover the hidden products in the economic war, central government now has its own counteroffensive underway. President Maduro has called for an alliance between patriotic distributors from the private sector to join forces with the state sector to defeat the hoarding and lines outside supermarkets that still persist.
On Saturday the government, via The Ministry of Food, organized 524 open air markets up and down the country so as to offer people good quality food at solidarity prices. The day was a huge success and offset attention from the few opposition marchers who took to the streets in eastern Caracas banging empty cooking pots symbolic of having no food.
Well, the people who went to the open air markets had plenty of food to choose from, saved money, and got in some much needed exercise considering the number of “plump” people one sees in the streets of Caracas these days.
For readers information – The March of the Empty Pots” is a carbon copy of middle class marches held in Chile just before the September 11th 1973 coup against socialist President Salvador Allende. The Venezuelan opposition never has had and still does not have any original ideas, nevermind a national economic plan.