Shoppers find empty shelves after Venezuela orders discounts


Finding basic items in crisis-torn Venezuela has just gotten a lot harder.

Hordes of desperate shoppers emptied supermarkets and bodegas last week after President Nicolas Maduro ordered hundreds of grocery stores slash their prices in the latest attempt to put a lid on hyperinflation. On Wednesday, store shelves remained painfully bare across the capital, Caracas, with many doubting they would be restocked anytime soon.

"Expensive food was better than no food at all," said Lucy Zarate, a 62-year-old caretaker, as she surveyed a barren meat counter at an east Caracas grocery store. "It's madness; bread today, hunger tomorrow," she added, citing a Spanish proverb.

The mandated price cuts came amid a rash of protests and looting during the holiday season, when Venezuelans typically use their Christmas bonuses to go on a lengthy vacation. But as the economic meltdown forces thousands to skip meals or rummage through the trash for leftovers, few had reason to celebrate.

"Usually, you finish the holidays in debt because you had a good time," said Nohemi Osario, a 43-year-old occupational therapist. "But this year we went broke trying to buy groceries."

Venezuela's ruling socialists have long resorted to foreign-exchange controls and price caps in a bid to make staples affordable. But, in practice, many goods are in perpetual short supply as producers struggle to cover costs. And now food sellers fear they may be unable to recover from the latest round of price cuts, which targeted the most basic goods such as vegetables, meat, butter and cooking oil. 

"It's not our fault our distributors keep raising prices," said Emerson Quintero, 28, manager of a Luvebras supermarket in eastern Caracas. "Now they're saying they won't even dispatch to us."

Economists widely prescribe easing the country's byzantine controls as part of a strategy to tackle quadruple-digit inflation and shortages, but Maduro has doubled-down on them, pushing prices even higher.

Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly estimates that prices rose 85 percent last month, with annualized inflation of more than 2,600 percent in 2017. The central bank has stopped publishing regular economic indicators. Authorities blame rising prices on government foes -- at home and abroad -- trying to stoke unrest and undermine Maduro's rule.

"These acts cannot be considered mere speculation; they're criminal acts against the country," William Contreras, the head of Venezuela's pricing authority, told daily Ultimas Noticias last week. "There's no reason for them to be changing prices and that's why we're making corrections," he said, adding that store inspections would continue.

Business leaders said the price cuts did away with what little capital many supermarkets had.

"Now we're in a situation where stores simply don't have the cash to restock," said Maria Carolina Uzcategui, president of Consecomercio, one of Venezuela's largest trade chambers. "Shortages will go from bad to critical."


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Cooking and Recipes

Kraft Heinz embraces Momofuku Sauce in bid for foodie cachet

Kraft Heinz Co., struggling with sliding sales and a falling stock price, is partnering with celebrity chef David Chang to generate some buzz. The ketchup maker will use its expertise in food production and distribution to help Chang take his Momofuku Ssam sauce national for the first time. The condiment, which has been served across the chef's restaurant...
Cider tasting room to open in Atlanta and more drink and dining news from the week
Cider tasting room to open in Atlanta and more drink and dining news from the week

Here are the stories that made a splash in the Atlanta food world this week. Atlanta Hard Cider Co. is set to break ground this  summer. / Photo from the Atlanta Hard Cider Co. Facebook page Atlanta Hard Cider Co. has plans to break ground on a facility in West Midtown this summer. The cider company, which was launched last year by husband and...
New JoJo’s Candy Shop is sweet news for Vinings
New JoJo’s Candy Shop is sweet news for Vinings

JoJo’s Candy Shop recently opened in the Vinings on the River shopping center / Photo credit: Ligaya Figueras Vinings just got a little bit sweeter now that JoJo’s Candy Shop has opened its doors. Located at 4199 Paces Ferry Road in the Vinings on the River shopping center, which is also home to Canoe, JoJo’s is stocked...
Celebrate SweetWater 420 Fest this weekend with this beer pick
Celebrate SweetWater 420 Fest this weekend with this beer pick

Credit: SweetWater Brewing Co. The date 4/20 means many things to many people. But in Atlanta, it marks the return of the SweetWater 420 Fest , which will be held for the fourth year at Centennial Olympic Park. It’s three days in celebration of music and beer, including the...
Just 5: Stories to read this week if you love food and drink in Atlanta
Just 5: Stories to read this week if you love food and drink in Atlanta

What should be on your plate this week? Here are 5 ideas for where to eat and what to cook: Noona Beef Tartare with cured egg yolk, preserved yuzu, korean chili, shallot, smoked salt, and rice puff. Photo credit- Mia Yakel AJC food and dining editor Ligaya Figueras reviews Noona is Duluth’s Parsons Alley development, writing, &ldquo...
More Stories