William Blum

Letters from readers re: the Washington Post Venezuela article

Letter from reader Eva Golinger:

I was just in Caracas two weeks ago and upon arrival had to go to a pharmacy. The place was well stocked with toilet paper, which people were buying, but it wasn’t crazed or excessive. There also are no “government limits” on how much or what can be bought. That is just a plain lie in the Washington Post article. It’s true that there have been shortages of some basic consumer products, but mainly due to private businesses either hoarding them and then bringing them out with price hikes, hence the state price controls recently in place, or the private businesses take tons of their products across the border into Colombia, where they can sell them at much higher prices than in Venezuela. At least several times a week, the National Guard is capturing contraband scammers illegally hauling products into Colombia, or raiding warehouses stocked full of sugar, toilet paper, oil, powdered milk and other products that are not available in the stores.

Others leave imported products at the ports, refusing to pay import takes on them, and then claim the government is responsible for the shortage - this is happening with paper to print newspapers currently, for example. Tons of newsprint paper is currently awaiting a private importer to pay import taxes on it in order to allow it into the country officially, while the newspaper owners claim publicly that the state is denying them dollars to import the paper - a complete lie.

This is not to say there aren’t problems. Obviously there are, which is why the Maduro government is launching such a fierce battle against the economic war. But it is much needed. Prices are out of control in Venezuela. Stores are making profits exceeding 1000% - literally - which is an aberration of capitalism. A washer/dryer is sold for more than a year’s wage of someone earning a middle class salary. It’s ridiculous. So, the state price controls are very necessary in order to stabilize the situation. Also responsible are people who panic and buy outrageous amounts of certain products, like toilet paper or oil. For example in the Washington Post article a women is quoted buying 4 bottles of cooking oil. Why is she buying so much just for a household? Because people hoard the products themselves and this cause and effect results in shortages as well. I have seen this in Venezuela for the more than 20 years I have lived there on and off, including well before Chavez first was elected in 1998. It’s a cultural phenomenon that must change in order for the country to have a healthy economy. Wealthier people are willing to pay ridiculous prices for basic products that then make them unaffordable to others - this is because the wealthier people don’t just earn more money, but generally have bank accounts abroad and change their dollars or euros on the black market for bolivars at exaggerated and elevated rates, giving them a massive amount of buying power.

It’s a complicated situation, but one that requires a heavy hand to solve. I may not like all of the measures the Maduro government is presently taking to remedy the economic situation, but I think most of them are necessary until things are stabilized.

Letter from reader Zafra Miriam:

Ok, the lines and all that are absolutely a creation of the opposition which feeds and enables a culture of corruption that has many Venezuelans who politically are neither here nor there taking advantage of the situation to make a quick buck. The scarcities are worse in the interior, but especially awful at the Colombian border where between 40% and 50% of imported goods is being illegally diverted. (If that was happening in the US, if 40% of imported goods was being syphoned off to Canada, don’t you think there would be lines for stuff in Montana?) If you go to Cucuta, Colombia, you will find the stores overflowing with the same Venezuelan goods that people are standing in line for or can’t get at all right on the other side of the line. The illegal exporting has been able to continue because of corruption in the National Guard and local police forces. Supposedly there is a major crackdown now on that and we’ll see what the outcome is.

But it doesn’t end there. There are also many companies in the country which have slowed or stopped production (auto parts is an example) because they refuse to sell at the legal price. There are distributors that are speculating with prices so that merchants have to charge outrageous prices to cover their costs, and there are merchants that simply put whatever price they please on things and trust that whatever fine they might be charged won’t even put a dent in the profits they’re making by gouging people. New penalties that include long prison sentences and loss of property could change that, but only if they are actually put into effect. Again, we’ll see.

The dollar issue is simple – the government has plenty of them and up until now was pendejo (foolish, dumbass) enough to keep giving them at preferential prices to companies (some of which didn’t even exist) that used them not to import goods but to sell on the black market. Then maybe they imported half of what they said they would and then either kept that half in a warehouse somewhere or sold it at black market dollar prices. Venezuela lost BILLIONS of dollars to this hemorrhage last year alone. Any serious person looking for the root of the problems in the Venezuelan economy should be looking there first. Now they’ve changed the rules so that – hey, ya think? – criminals won’t have such an easy time getting dollars. Why it took them so long I couldn’t tell you.

Is the upper class hurting from all this? Please. My husband is a freelance musician. I’ve lived here with him for 5 years now. He worked more this last December – musician high season – than he has worked in all the time I’ve been here. Morning noon and night he had gigs. Now it’s the first trimester when he usually hardly works at all and he’s still got regular gigs. And who’s paying for those bands and orchestras? Who’s going out dancing and drinking at clubs or throwing private parties with live music? Wherever he plays there are happy people partying high on the hog, throwing money around like it grows on trees. So someone is benefitting from the current situation, and it seems to be the very same people who are moaning and groaning about how they can’t make ends meet. My favorite example of this is the frat-boy rich kid university student who wrote “Maduro, we’re starving to death!” on the rear window of his Hummer.

What’s happening is that the elites and the opposition are working together to manipulate the system to transfer wealth from the bottom of the economic ladder up to themselves. And as a bonus if they piss people off enough and/or make the government appear incompetent and out of control they might get the coup they’ve wanted for 14 years. They want what they had before, what goes on in Colombia or the US, where that transfer of wealth up the class ladder is built into the system which they own and control. The government, trying to stop this pilfering, is coming at it pretty late in the game. The mental image I have is of someone running up the down escalator. You gotta run pretty fast. …

The crime stuff is bullshit – show me the stats that crime is up, and show me the evidence of near-total criminal impunity. That’s just false. I love how they can say stuff like that with absolutely nothing to back it up and that’s it – I saw it in the Post, so it must be true. The opposition and the opposition press used the murder of that actress person to make an international stink about how dangerous it is here. They can talk to me about crime when they make the same stink when indigenous leaders get murdered by paramilitaries hired by billionaire ranchers who want to steal indigenous land. The highest crime rates in Venezuela BY FAR are in the barrios of Miranda state where Capriles [leading opposition candidate] is governor. Go figure. The other high crime areas are around those same borders with Colombia where all the illegal trafficking of goods is going on, major mafias are in operation and where paramilitaries are being imported to infiltrate barrios, supply drugs and arms, and stoke gang violence.

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