Toilet paper shortage causes a stink in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela, Tuesday May 21, 2013 – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blamed the latest crisis on “anti-government forces”. Commerce minister Alejandro Fleming pointed the finger at the media, who he accused of purposely creating “excessive demand” in order to disrupt the country.

But while officials were on a roll in their quest for a scapegoat, beleaguered Venezuelans were on a desperate quest of their own as the possibility of being off a roll loomed large.

The oil-rich country is short of toilet paper, and things are getting browner by the day.

The Venezuelan people are used to making do and going without many staples, including such essentials as  milk and butter, as a result of the country’s frequent food shortages.

Now, however, they’re flushed and furious as they battle bathroom blues in the face of a more urgent need: the lack of a basic hygiene product that is taken for granted in far poorer countries across the Caribbean.

On Friday, time.com reported that stores had run out, and each new delivery saw a rush on supermarkets. Consumers, it appeared, were starting to feel wiped-out in their ongoing struggle to avert toilet tissue torment.

One woman, standing in line at a Caracas supermarket that had received a fresh delivery, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that she had been scouring the capital city’s shops for two weeks.

“Even at my age, I’ve never seen this,” a 70-year-old shopper told Sky News.

Economists blame Venezuela’s shortages partly on price controls, initiated by the late President Hugo Chavez, to make goods affordable to the poorest people in society.

The spinoff has nevertheless led to country-wide shortages of staple items, with Venezuela’s “scarcity index” currently at 21 percent, which means that out of 100 basic products, 21 aren’t available in stores, BBC News noted.

As Steve Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, told the Associated Press: “State-controlled prices – prices that are set below market-clearing price – always result in shortages. The shortage problem will only get worse, as it did over the years in the Soviet Union.”

Meanwhile, commerce minister Fleming confirmed that he was taking drastic action to deal with the sticky situation.

“The revolution will bring 50 million rolls of toilet paper. We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down,” the minister said. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)