Venezuela Responds to Bread Shortage ... By Arresting Bakers and Seizing Bakeries
In the midst of a bread shortage, Venezuela's government arrested four bakers this week, seizing two bakeries for 90 days. President Nicolás Maduro is kicking his "bread war" policy into high gear, sending inspectors and soldiers into more than 700 bakeries around the capital to enforce tight regulations and price controls.
"Those behind the 'bread war' are going to pay, and don't let them say later it is political persecution," Maduro warned at the start of last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported. His ruling United Socialist Party blames bakers for the bread shortage, arguing that if they break the government's price controls they are waging a "bread war" on the stability of Venezuela.
In a press release, the national superintendent for the defense of socioeconomic rights announced it had charged four people and temporarily seized two bakeries, accusing the bakers of conspiring in an "economic war" to destabilize the country, the Miami Herald reported. The government charged these bakers with selling underweight bread and using price-regulated flour to illegally bake sweet rolls and croissants.
The AP reported that two men were arrested because their bakery was using too much wheat in sweet bread, ham-filled croissants and other goods. The other two were detained for making brownies with out-of-date wheat.
The government said bakeries are only allowed to produce French bread and white loaves, or pan canilla, with government-imported flour. Bakers reportedly get away with charging more for products by baking goods without a price control, like croissants. In a tweet Thursday, price control czar William Contreras said that only 90 percent of baked goods have to be price-controlled products.
Two bakeries were seized for 90 days for breaking a number of rules, including selling overpriced bread.
"The government is doing everything in its power to end the bread lines, but they're looking at the whole thing backwards," Juan Crespo, president of the Industrial Flour Union Sintra-Harina, told the Herald. Crespo's union represents 9,000 bakeries across Venezuela. The union president said the government's regulations are not the solution to the problem.
The government is regulating bakers into a corner. It not only requires that bakers use 90 percent of government-imported flour to make savory bread and only 10 percent for sweet bread like pastries and cakes, but demands they provide a constant supply of bread from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and that they ensure the next day's supply by holding over bread from the previous day, according to the BBC.
But economic realities arguably make these regulations impossible, critics claim. Another group representing bakers, Fevipan, has asked to meet with Maduro, claiming that most establishments cannot make ends meet without selling higher-priced products, such as sweet cakes.
Other bakers point to the shortage of wheat, saying 80 percent of establishments have none in stock. "The government isn't importing enough wheat," Crespo argued. "If you don't have wheat, you don't have flour, and if you don't have flour, you don't have bread." The union president estimated that the country would require four 30-ton boats of wheat every month to cover demand.
"The bakeries are showing the authorities that they have no bread inventory," Crepo told the Herald. "The government has to see the reality."
Venezuela has struggled with all sorts of shortages in recent years, both due to the drop in the price of oil and the incompetence of its socialist government. After a succession of corrupt and incompetent governments, the people turned to a Marxist named Hugo Chavez, who just made things worse.
Chavez controlled prices, gave Cuba huge amounts of aid, and borrowed billions from China, while destroying the ability of businesses in his country to operate. There are shortages of everything in today's Venezuela, and the country is on the verge of collapse. People are waiting in bread lines, workers can only work two days a week due to energy shortages, and the country has run out of toilet paper.
In a cruel twist of fate, the power shortage even impeded Venezuela's ability to pump oil, the natural resource which made the country rich between the 1950s and 1980s. And perhaps even more heartbreaking, zoo animals have starved to death among food shortages.
But Maduro's government seems not to have realized the lesson. Instead, he demonizes the businessmen who make economies run. Rather than free up the food economy, he imposes tough regulations, and even arrests bakers and seizes bakeries. In fact, the Venezuelan president believes in socialism so much, he actually endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 U.S. Democrat primary, illustrating that what's happening in Venezuela could also happen in the U.S.
Bakers need to be able to make money to make ends meet, and they need bread to sell, especially if the government requires them to sell it between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Maduro's government needs to realize that bakers meeting market demand are the solution, not the problem.