, CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb 28 – At a popular east Caracas bakery, customers can buy Spanish olive oil, Italian tomato sauce and even American chocolates. But bread? Forget it.
Cardboard signs on the door warning of “No bread” have become increasingly common at Venezuelan bakeries.
Venezuela gets 96 percent of its foreign currency from oil exports, and as crude prices have plunged, so have the country’s imports – among them wheat.
The leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro has tightly controlled access to hard currency, and this has affected imports ranging from medicine to toilet paper. Now it is seriously affecting imports of wheat, which Venezuela does not grow.
Add to this the soaring inflation rate – 181 percent in 2015, the world’s highest – and you see why customers are mainly interested in buying basic food items such as bread.
The few bakeries that can still get a hold of a 50-kilogram (110-pound) sack of flour to make bread limit their sales to just two “canillas” – thin half-baguettes – per person three times a day.
Customers line up for bread in the morning, at noon and in the evening.
“Our ovens are off,” baker Freddy Vilet told AFP.
His store has crackers, sausages and ham for sale, but no bread. He doesn’t even have hamburger or hot dog bread.
Rosa Perez, who manages a bakery in the tony Chacao district, said that her store is working at about 30 percent capacity.
“With the little flour that we have, we make cachitos (bread filled with ham and cheese) and pizzas. We sell them at a higher price and that helps compensate our losses,” she said.