Toilet paper stink gives way to Mass mess in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela, Friday May 31, 2013 – With shortages of everything from staple food items to toilet paper raising a stink in Venezuela, the government may soon find itself facing the wrath of God – or His representatives on earth – as supplies of Communion wine and wafers dwindle with no apparent salvation in sight.    

The Catholic Church says it is running out of wine to celebrate Mass because of nationwide shortages of basic supplies, with the scarcity of some products forcing the country’s only wine maker to stop selling to the Church.

“[Our supplier] Bodegas Pomar have told us that they can no longer make wine because they’re facing difficulties,” Church spokesman Monsignor Lucker told BBC News.

Monsignor Lucker added that they had enough supplies for just two more months, and he did not know if the Church could afford wines from abroad.

The problem didn’t end there, moreover, with the spokesman indicating that Communion wafers were also in jeopardy.

“The makers of consecrated bread have told us that they’ll have to raise prices because they can’t find enough flour. Wheat is not grown here; it all comes from abroad,” he explained.

“A packet of consecrated bread used to cost 50 bolivar (US$8), but it’s now 100,” he added.

Paradoxically, the country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world endures a level of shortages unimaginable in far poorer Caribbean countries.

Venezuela relies heavily on imports, but currency controls have restricted its ability to pay for foreign goods – just one reason for the shortages.

Economists also blame Venezuela’s shortages 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.”

As if to prove Hanke’s point, recently reported that stores had run out of toilet paper, and each new delivery saw a rush on supermarkets by desperate consumers.

One woman, standing in line at a Caracas supermarket that had received a fresh delivery of the precious paper, 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,” another shopper, 70-years-old, told Sky News.

Supplies of milk, sugar, cooking oil, butter, flour, and corn flour – which is used to make Venezuela’s national dish, arepas – are among the many staples affected, as is a range of personal hygiene products, leaving the beleaguered Venezuelan people to make do and often go without.

Yet as the problems spread from the kitchen and the bathroom to the people’s places of worship, the government still insists that an opposition-led conspiracy and price speculations are to blame. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)