Venezuelans over the years have gotten used to shortages of basic necessities like milk and sugar, but the latest shortage overwhelming the country is a bit more uncomfortable: toilet paper.
Embarrassed government leaders blame the toilet paper shortage on the efforts of its enemies to destabilize the government. They have pledged to import 50 million rolls right away to correct the situation.
“Even at my age, I’ve never seen this,” 70-year-old Maria Rojas told the Associated Press, adding that she had been looking for toilet paper for two weeks when she finally found some at a supermarket in downtown Caracas.
The predicament is just worsened by consumers who, when they receive word that a store has gotten in some stock, swarm to buy as much as they can, like a run on a bank. Since they have no confidence there will be a regular supply, Venezuelans have taken to hoarding.
“I bought it because it’s hard to find,” said Maria Perez, as she walked out of the store with several rolls.
“Here there’s a shortage of everything – butter, sugar, flour,” she said. But the latest shortage is particularly worrisome “because there always used to be toilet paper.”
Shortages are common in Venezuela because the government keeps such tight controls on foreign currency, prices and imports, partly to ensure there are goods available to the poor.
Recently elected President Nicolas Maduro, who is trying to carry on the legacy of the late President Hugo Chavez, a hero to the Venezuelan poor, took a page out of his predecessor’s book and blamed the shortage on anti-government forces, including the private sector.
“We will bring in 50 million [rolls] to show those groups that they won’t make us bow down,” said Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming, who blamed the shortage on “excessive demand” due to a “media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country.”
The government said it would import 50 million rolls of toilet paper and 760,000 tons of food.
“I’ve been looking for it for two weeks,” Cristina Ramos told the AP at a store on Wednesday. “I was told that they had some here, and now I’m in line.”
Many Venezuelans vented their frustrations over social media, with bitter and humorous tweets and comments.
The government has “even managed to stop production of toilet paper!” said a tweet from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the special election to Maduro last month by less than 300,000 votes — 50.66 percent to 49.07 percent. “It doesn’t even help having the biggest oil reserves on the planet.”