A social media campaign earlier this week drew increased attention to the scarcity crisis in Venezuela, as citizens took to Twitter to show empty supermarket shelves across the country. On Tuesday, a video surfaced on YouTube showing a mob of shoppers fighting one another for laundry detergent.
Today, the government re-iterated its stance that not only is there not a scarcity crisis in the country, but also that the opposition was engaged in a campaign to make it seem as if there was and to incite violence.
The Chief of the Capital District, Ernesto Villegas, spoke today before supporters at an event to hand-over a public housing building to residents. Below, a video of the speech along with my translation (From 1:18 – 2:27):
Villegas: And now, the very same hijitos de papa [literally, “father’s sons”, akin to “trust fund kids”] are trying to bring to the present that which was forgotten in the past, the criminal and terrorist guarimbas that cost Venezuela so many lives and so much economic damage. Well, this year, in 2015, you will again pintarle una paloma [literally “paint a dove”, meaning “give the finger”] of peace to the guarimba.
They [the opposition] have made you line up. They hid products from you and made them more expensive. They made it difficult for you to access goods and services. And now, in line ups, the very same hijitos de papa who have always put down our people are placing infiltrators so that the people will go off the rails and act violently against each other. When you’re in a line up and you see an infiltrator who is putting you down and suggesting looting, give him una paloma of peace.
Gov’t Continues to Deny Scarcity; Observers Disagree
Carlos Osorio, the vicepresident of Nutritional Security, said this past Tuesday that there was no scarcity to speak of in Venezuela, and that what was happening instead was part of a campaign to destabilize the country. Osorio said:
On Saturday and Sunday, a destabilization campaign began which sought to portray events that are not real and show alleged evidence that there is scarcity.
Today, Minister of Justice and Peace Carmen Melendez announced a security initiative to provide added security at supermarkets across the nation, and said:
I’ve been going around since this morning… to all of the supermarkets, the Abastos Bicentenarios [state-owned supermarkets], every place that has to do with food, providing security to our people and providing a security initiative…
Be calm, be patient. The supermarket shelves are full.
Aporrea, a left-leaning website, has broken from it’s usually pro-government line and has been running articles recently on the scarcity affecting the country. Three days ago, it sent a reporter to speak with customer of a Bicentenario in Caracas. The video is below, along with my translation:
Reporter: Saturday, January 3, 2015. We’re going towards the Bicentenario in Plaza Venezuela in Caracas.
Reporter: How is the stock in there? Nothing? [People walk by]
Woman in Tank-Top: Eso esta pe’lao [There’s nothing in there]
Reporter: How are things in there, ma’am?
Elderly Woman: It’s OK, but there’s not a whole lot to buy.
Reporter: What do you ladies say? How are things in there?
Woman in White Tank-Top: Empty.
Reporter: Some of the people we’ve talked to, some of the customers, have told us that there’s nothing in there. Let’s go in there and figure out what’s going on. To the national government, the Minister of Nutrition, what’s going on? Why is the Bicentenario in Plaza Venezuela empty? This isn’t a good way to start 2015. Head’s up!
Reporter: We’re trying to interview some of the customers outside here because, inside, no one is allowed to record video. You can’t record inside, but you can record outside, so we’re trying to listen to the opinions of some of the customers. Sir, can you talk to us about the stock in there?
Man with Baseball Cap: [Grunts].
Reporter: This gentleman does not want to speak.
Reporter: Hey guys! Do you want to talk to us about the stock in there? [Off-camera: Aporrea! Aporrea! [We’re from] Revolutionary Radio] No one wants to speak.
Reporter: It’s Saturday, January 3, 2015, and we’re on the side walk facing the road up to the stadiums near one of the door. Why is there no stock in the Bicentenario? Let’s talk to a customer.
Elderly Man with the Green Hat: Good morning. My name is Roberto Montemarani. I am a customer of the Bicentenario here in Plaza Venezuela. I’m not speaking as a supporter of the government or of the opposition. I am simply a customer of the Plaza Venezuela Bicentenario.
It’s not just today. The supermarket has been suffering from alarming scarcity for a long time. What’s been happening now is enough to make anyone cry. Why don’t they let us go in? Why don’t they let this journalist with the camera go in to see and to record? If you go in there, the shelves are totally empty. There are no vegetables or fruits. A lot of people talk about imported products, but I ask: Are potatoes important? Are tomatoes imported? Are eggs imported? No, we grow those here.
Reporter: It’s almost as if the opposition is [inaudible] the Bicentenario.
Roberto: It’s sad. It’s sad. But I think that Mr. Nicolas Maduro has to figure out what to do. I can assure you that I’ve seen some government officials who say that there is stock. So, I ask myself, if there is lots of stock, why can’t I go into the Bicentenario to record the disaster in there? And, if not, you could ask any customer who wants to buy something, and they won’t be able to find it.
Reporter: Hello sir, can you talk a little bit about the stock situation in there?
Man in Green with Glasses: Look, what can I say? We couldn’t find meat and chicken. That’s what we came here for. That’s the only thing I came here for.
Reporter: And what about you, sir?
Man in Black with Black Hat: The same. There was no meat, chicken, sugar, flour. [Was there coffee?] No, there wasn’t any either. [Sugar?] No. [Milk?] Milk? Yeah, this one. Skimmed milk.
Repoter: What I’ve seen is that people [end up] buying snacks.
Man in Black with Black Hat: That’s all there was. There was nothing else. Look, I got a snack here.
Reporter: But a person can’t just go home with snacks.
Man in Black with Black Hat: No. But there’s nothing else. [Vegetables?] There were vegetables, but very few. And they were really expensive.
Reporter: You can’t find potatoes, onion, broccoli, carrots?
Man in Black with Black Hat: You can’t find anything, buddy.
Reporter: Where is all the food? How is it possible that private supermarkets do have food?
Man in Black with Black Hat: I don’t know. It must be in Fuerte Tiuna [the Presidential Residence]. And they don’t have food either. Don’t believe that.
Reporter: Well, I was in the Exelsior Gama [a private supermarket] yesterday and there was lots of food.
Man in Black with Black Hat: Well, maybe. I was in the Mareidense [another private supermarket] the other day and there was nothing. There was no meat or chicken.
Reporter: I think what’s happening here is really incredible.
Man in Black with Black Hat: Yes, it is… [What’s your name?] Fernando Rodriguez.
Reporter: Can you tell us what you found in there?
Man in Purple: I found milk, chlorine and there is lots of other stuff in there,
Reporter: How is the stock?
Man in Purple: It was O.K.
Woman Walking By: “O.K.”? It’s empty in there.
Woman in Orange: It was empty.
Man in Purple: No, well, you can find things.
Woman in Orange: The Bicentenario is empty today. There’s no meat, no chicken, there was nothing today. Nothing. Only milk…
Reporter: What do you think is causing the scarcity?
Woman in Orange: Well, I don’t know, but I think that it must the government. Who else can we blame for the scarcity? The government. Because if the government had supply then this wouldn’t be a problem.
Man in White and Green Stripes: There’s no production.
Reporter: Maduro usually checks our website. What would you like to say?
Woman in Orange: Well, please provide supply to all of the supermarkets, give the supermarkets everything they have. We need things for the people to see so that, you know, we can support them. If not, we can’t do anything. With so much scarcity and everything else hidden, there’s no cooking oil. there’s no sugar…
Man in White and Green Stripes: … there’s no sugar. [Coffee?] No.
Woman in Orange: Coffee has disappeared. [Rice?] There’s no rice. There’s no beans. There’s no lentils, there’s nothing.
Man in White and Green Stripes: I guess we have to wait til Worker’s Day for everyone to go out and work.
Reporter: Good morning ma’am. How’s the stock inside the supermarket?
Woman in Purple: Really, really good. Really good.
Reporter: Really good? Were you able to find everything?
Woman in Purple: Yes.
Reporter: How lucky!
Reporter: Are you coming from the supermarket? What did you find?
Man in White: Yes. I didn’t find anything. There’s nothing, you can’t find anything.
Reporter: Some people are saying that there’s lots of stuff in there. A lady just told me she found everything.
Man in White: She lied. There’s nothing in there.
Reporter: Why do you think this is happening?
Man in White: This government doesn’t work. I don’t know why we’re here. Let’s see if we can do something about what’s happening here. s to the Bicentenario. They didn’t let us in to record. There’s nothing in there. President Maduro, listen up!
Industry: Meat Production Down 50%
The Federacion de Ganaderos de Venezuela [Venezuelan Ranchers Association] announced today that meat production fell by 50% in 2014. Vanessa Davies, a spokesperson for the association, said that the situation does not appear to be improving so far in 2015.
Below, some pictures of line ups outside supermarkets in Venezuela from day.
A Central Madeirense in Caracas:
A Kromi in Valencia [EDIT #1: I accidentally linked the same image twice. I will upload the correct image later today. EDIT #2: After erroneously posting the same image twice, I’ve now corrected the mistake and posted the correct picture below]:
Villegas’ speech today was ridiculous on a number of levels.
First, his suggestions that the opposition, 1) is causing the scarcity by hiding products to create lines, 2) has made food more expensive, and 3) is sending agents into lines to cause fights are almost beyond belief. At no point does Villegas explain how exactly a fragmented political minority has been able to exert so much control over every sector of the Venezuelan economy as to do the things he accuses them of doing. How can the opposition increase food prices? How can they increase inflation? How can they empty store shelves?
The government on the one hand denies that there is scarcity, and on the other blames the opposition for the scarcity. In Orwell’s 1984, it was “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia”; in Venezuela, it’s “There is no such thing as scarcity and the scarcity is caused by the opposition”. Villegas’ comments also beg the question:How little control does the government have over the country that the opposition can impact it so severely?
Second, Villegas’ suggestion that Venezuelans le pinten la paloma de la paz to solve their problems is outright vulgar. “Le pinte la paloma” [I gave him the finger!] is something a Venezuelan might say as he recounts a heated argument with someone. “La paloma de la paz” [the peace dove] is an international symbol for peace and harmony. Pintar la paloma de la paz would be like giving someone the finger with a smile and wishing them a great day. I suspect that in order to avoid sounding aggressive by suggesting that people give each other the finger, Villegas came up with this play-on-words which ultimately is as empty and ridiculous as the rest of his comments.