Short of dough, Venezuela running out of bread too

A sign reading "No Bread" at a bakery in Caracas last Thursday. Venezuela is critically short of wheat flour.
A sign reading "No Bread" at a bakery in Caracas last Thursday. Venezuela is critically short of wheat flour.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

CARACAS • 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 per cent 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.

The soaring inflation rate of 181 per cent in 2015, also the world's highest, explains why customers are mainly interested in buying basic food items such as bread.

The few bakeries that can still get a hold of a 50kg 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 said.

After visiting four bakeries in a quest to buy two "canillas", an angry 71-year-old Francesco Angelastro declared that buying bread has become an "ordeal".

Venezuela appears to have reached a critical point in its flour shortage. "We are truly worried about the wheat mills being paralysed," Federation of Flour Workers chief Juan Crespo said, adding that five of Venezuela's 12 wheat mills, which employ some 12,000 people, have closed.

The government has announced that 170,000 tonnes of wheat would arrive in March, enough to cover demand for one month.

Ms Rosa Perez, who manages a bakery, said she was afraid of being out of a job if the promised wheat imports do not arrive.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'Short of dough, Venezuela running out of bread too'. Print Edition | Subscribe