Venezuela is running low on toilet paper, and it’s blaming the media

Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to offer ordinary Venezuelans political power and social services. On some of these counts, it has at least partially succeeded. On others — such as the provision of toilet paper — not so much. On Tuesday, Alejandro Fleming, the country’s commerce minister, announced that the government would make the ...

LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images

Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to offer ordinary Venezuelans political power and social services. On some of these counts, it has at least partially succeeded. On others -- such as the provision of toilet paper -- not so much.

Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to offer ordinary Venezuelans political power and social services. On some of these counts, it has at least partially succeeded. On others — such as the provision of toilet paper — not so much.

On Tuesday, Alejandro Fleming, the country’s commerce minister, announced that the government would make the equivalent of a frantic grocery store run to pick up some rolls. "The revolution will bring the country the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper," he told the state news agency AVN. "We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down." (Not that long ago, the "revolution" was promising to provide housing and health care but hey, Marx said something about the importance of toilet paper, right?)

"This is the last straw," Manuel Fagundes, a shopper trying to track down some toilet paper in Caracas, told the Associated Press. "I’m 71 years old and this is the first time I’ve seen this."

Though the lack of toilet paper represents a new low for Venezuela’s reeling economy, this isn’t the first time the country has been hit by goods shortages. Staples like cooking oil, sugar, and flour are often missing from supermarkets. Because the government has imposed strict capital controls, Venezuelan companies say they lack the foreign reserves to buy the goods they need on the international market, leaving shelves bare and consumers furious.

These debilitating shortages, which seem like a throwback to the Soviet era, don’t bode well for Nicolás Maduro, who won a narrow victory in presidential elections in April. Opposition figures have wasted little time in making hay out of the government’s troubles. Responding to this week’s toilet-paper proclamation, for example, the opposition academic Alex Capriles quipped on Twitter, "50 million rolls of toilet paper come out to 1.75 rolls per person. These are the great revolutionary solutions." And writing for the paper El Universal, Diego Bautista Urbaneja described the shortages as the central problem facing the Maduro government:

If [Maduro does not possess], as Chávez did, a great ability to shape popular understandings of the country’s problems, they will be imposed on the collective imagination more forcefully the more the government fails to interpret the problems correctly, as the result of years of misguided economic policies.

But the government doesn’t appear to be taking this latest shortage as an indication that economic reforms are necessary. Look no further than Fleming, the commerce minister, who blamed the toilet-paper shortage on "a media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country."

Speaking collectively for the media here, I only want to ask Fagundes one question: How’d you know?!

Twitter: @EliasGroll

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