A sticky situation.
Venezuela's government is known for its state-must-do-it-all mindset, inherited from late President Hugo Chavez and his radical followers, known as Chavistas. But late last week, the notoriously inefficient government went above and beyond to shine its populist credentials: It stepped right into Venezuelan bathrooms
On Sept. 20, President Nicolas Maduro and a new economic panel ordered national price regulator Sundecop to “temporarily” seize plants owned by Manufacturas de Papel CA, or Manpa, the company that supplies 40 percent of the country’s demand for toilet paper and personal-care paper goods. Their reasoning? To oversee production, because consumers can't seem to find enough rolls of toilet paper.
It's not just bathroom tissue that's lacking: In recent months, food items such as cooking oil and powdered milk have nearly disappeared from store shelves. But even after a decade of price controls, foreign-exchange restrictions, runaway inflation, currency devaluations, blackouts and takeovers of more than 1,000 companies or their assets, the government still claims the private sector is at fault for the deficiency in consumer staples. The Manpa asset grab came a week after Maduro introduced the new regulatory committee, which will address product hoarding and other abuses that he blames for missing goods.
And there's more!
Not everyone thinks these shortages spell bad news. Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, an avowed Marxist, famously quipped in 2009 that “socialism has been built based on scarcity.” Elias Eljuri, head of the National Statistics Institute, said in late May that toilet paper scarcity showed “Venezuelans are eating more.” He quickly became the -- pardon the pun -- butt of jokes on Twitter. Comedian Andres Schmucke tweeted a tongue-in-cheek view on May 23: “According to Elias Eljuri the toilet paper shortage happens because people are eating more. Man, us comedians will be out of a job.”
A frustrated Foreign Minister Elias Jaua only made things worse when he admitted the government “had work to do” to overcome shortages and asked: “Do you want to have the fatherland or do you want toilet paper?” Critics tweeted their disapproval using a fitting hashtag, #LosChavistasSeLimpianElCuloConLaPatria (#ChavistasWipeTheirBehindsWithTheFatherland), which was already being used by anti-Chavistas.