Venezuelans have been hit by a chronic toilet paper shortage that has emptied supermarket shelves empty and seen long queues for a few remaining rolls.
The south American country has grown accustomed to short supplies of basic foodstuffs like butter, milk, cornmeal and coffee, but this latest deprivation is hitting the populace hard.
When the rare new stocks arrive panicked householders attempt to hoard toilet paper as the desperate situation continues.
Sky News reports one 70-year-old woman said she had been trying for two weeks to find toilet rolls before she finally located a few in a supermarket in Caracas.
Maria Rojas said: “Even at my age, I’ve never seen this.”
Another householder, Maria Perez, said: “Here there’s a shortage of everything – butter, sugar, flour.” Then, added: “There always used to be toilet paper.”
Economists aboard say Venezuela’s shortages are caused by a combination of price controls meant to make basic goods available to the poorest and also due to the government’s controls on foreign currency.
Steve Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, explained to CBS News.
“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.”
Many Venezuelan factories function at half capacity because currency controls introduced a decade by the former and now deceased president Hugo Chavez, make it difficult for factory-owners to pay for imported materials and parts.
But the embattled socialist government now led by President Nicolas Maduro — chosen by the dying Chavez to continue his “Bolivarian revolution” — says that anti-government forces, some coming from the private sector, are behind the shortages.
Their reason? Destabilizing the country.
To cope with the dire emergency, Maduro’s government has agreed to import an extra 50 million toilet rolls.
Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming said “excessive demand” for rolls had built up because of a “media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country.”
The minster said monthly consumption of toilet paper was usually 125 million rolls, but said current demand indicated 40 million more were needed.
“We will bring in 50 million to show those groups that they won’t make us bow down,” he added.
Meanwhile, until these vital supplies arrive people are running out of patience as well the few toilet rolls some have managed to find. Last month, Venezuela’s scarcity index rose to its highest level since 2009, while the 12-month inflation rate has soared to nearly 30 percent.