CARACAS – An average family in Venezuela has to pass through the eye of a needle to afford a standard food basket which, even after being subsidized, is 17 percent over the minimum wage in the country.
One has the option of paying 220 bolivars ($34) for a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of coffee at the first store that may have it, or search the city for a shop that sells it for 26.50 bolivars ($4.20) to make the government-subsidized food turn into reality.
The distortion between the prices established by President Nicolas Maduro’s government and those set by the market extends to over 40 products in the standard food basket, which according to government authorities, is priced at 5,741 bolivars ($911).
In 2011, the government led by the late Hugo Chavez passed a law allowing the authorities to set the prices for commodities in the food basket.
Since then, the agriculture sector criticized the move, saying that it would not cover the costs of production, and frequent cycles of scarcity and shortages have prevailed.
The difficulty in finding products like milk, coffee, sugar and toilet paper has forced Venezuelans to pay speculative prices that are often manipulated by greedy traders.
Many are of the opinion that the market prices are controlled by the price of the dollar in the extra-official or parallel currency market where it is currently over 100 bolivars, far exceeding the rates fixed by the Venezuelan government.
The cost of the food basket was over 15,000 bolivars ($2,386) in the month of October, director of the Center for Social Analysis and Documentation, Oscar Meza, told Efe.
“This difference is basically because our calculation is not based on what should be, but on what really is in the market,” he explained, referring to the difference between the market and government prices.
In this context, 3.5 times the minimum wage would be required to cover the basic nutritional requirements of an average family.
The other option is for people to visit the government-run supermarkets to buy products at a subsidized rate but only after spending hours standing in long queues which sometimes begin before daybreak.
Besides, the frequent scarcity of several products in these stores is another factor to be taken into consideration.
This scarcity is also often due to blackmarketing and smuggling of subsidized products.