Venezuela's Toilet Paper Crisis is No Laughing Matter

Posted: May 17, 2013 4:00 PM

Venezuela's new president promises to import 50 million rolls of toilet paper as fears of a bathroom emergency spread prompting people across the socialist country to waiting on long lines at supermarkets or pharmacies to stock on up soft tissue.

“I've been looking for it for two weeks,” Cristina Ramos told the Associated Press Wednesday during her hunt for soft white paper. “I was told that they had some here and now I'm in line.”

Several supermarkets were out of toilet paper in the capital Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Associated Press, and those that received fresh batches quickly filled up with shoppers as the word spread.

President Nicholas Maduro blames anti-government forces and the private sector for causing the shortages in an effort to destabilize the country.

The 'excessive demand’ for tissue had “built up due to a media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country” and the government ''will bring in 50 million to show those groups that they won't make us bow down,” Venezuela Commerce Minister, Alejandro Fleming, told Venezuelan State news agency AVN Tuesday.

“The revolution will bring in the coming days the equivalent of 50 million toilet rolls. Starting this Friday until Wednesday next week, we will get the first shipment which will be equivalent to 20 million toilet rolls of paper needed to cover demand for a week or even more than a week,” he said. “We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down."

Economists say state controlled prices always result in shortages and the shortage of the basic necessity is probably a result of years of financial dysfunction and prohibitive foreign exchange controls.

Venezuelans, after years of economic dysfunction, are accustomed to shortages from time to time as staples like medicine, milk, flour, sugar, butter, coffee and cornmeal have ran short in the past, but the scarcity of bathroom tissue in the oil-rich country is, for many people, beyond belief. Shoppers often spend several days looking for basic items, and stock up when they find them.

“Here there's a shortage of everything - butter, sugar, flour,” 70-year-old Maria Rojas told AP. But the latest shortage is particularly worrisome 'because there always used to be toilet paper.”

“This is the last straw, that even in this country the toilet paper has to be imported. I can only imagine the money they are making from this. Here in Venezuela not even the toilet paper is made. The same with flour and cooking oil and everything,”a shopper hunting for tissue in Caracas told Sky News. “I am 71 and the first time in my life I have witnessed this."

Venezuela’s 12-month inflation rate has risen to nearly 30 percent while the country's scarcity index is currently at 21 percent — meaning that out of 100 basic goods, 21 of them aren't available on store shelves. Lines for commodities like milk, sugar, cooking oil, corn flour used to make areas, and, yes, toilet paper, can often stretch down the block.

The government this week announced it also would import 760,000 tons of food in addition to the 50m rolls of toilet paper.