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Venezuela Just Had A 'Let Them Eat Cake' Moment

Food line in Venezuela San CristobalREUTERS/Carlos Garcia RawlinsPeople line up to buy food at a supermarket in San Cristobal, about 410 miles (660 km) southwest of Caracas, February 27, 2014.

In Venezuela a plunge in oil prices, the country’s main export, has turned a goods shortage problem into an unmitigated national disaster, but the tragedy seems lost on the country’s Food Minister, Yván José Bello Rojas.

Venezuelans can wait in grocery store lines for days to find products that may not even be on the shelves — this has been the case for over a year. But when a reporter asked Rojas if he ever waits in lines, he said:

“I’ve been in tons of lines. I went to a my favourite sports team’s game this weekend, and I had to get in line to get a parking space. I got in line to buy my ticket. And then… I made a line to get into the stadium. And you know what, I made a line to find my seat. And then you know what,” Bello finished with satisfaction, “I went to go buy an arepa [Venezuelan sandwich]… and I had to wait in line there too…”

Reporter Ana Vanessa Herrero then asked him about a woman she had recently interviewed who said she was looking for diapers for two days and couldn’t find them.

Food Minister Yván Bello VenezuelaNTN24Venezuela’s Food Minister Yván Bello Rojas

“She’s exaggerating,” he said, “no one would wait in line for six days for anything,” he added, interrupting the chorus of reporters throwing out anecdotes to the contrary.

Earlier in the 7-minute interview, Bello explained to that the shortage problem was not due to an unbalanced Venezuelan economy manipulated by government price regulation and bloated by government spending, but due to issues with distribution.

“The same people can’t just go and buy the same products every day,” Rojas said matter-of-factly, adding that one person couldn’t possibly buy one gallon of milk per day, for example, even if they had the money to do it. “More than anything it [the shortage] is a distribution problem because if any government has done their homework on food, it’s this Bolivaran government.”

So if the people can’t find food in government grocery stores … let them eat cake?

Marie antoinettescreenshot/ ‘Marie Antoinette’

Ultimately, Bello refused to answer Herrero’s questions because she would not agree with the administration’s prevailing idea that all this economic suffering — rampant inflation, dwindling central bank coffers, and more — is the result of an economic war on the Venezuela.

Venezuela InflationPantheon Macroeconomics

Herrero said that since this interview was released, she has been blocked from government events and received threatening calls demanding that she take the video down. She took to Twitter to say that under no circumstance would she buckle to government pressure.

“Don’t waste your time calling to threaten me, I’m not going to take down the video that hurt the Minister of Food.” 

Around this time last year, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest inflation and corruption. After about a month the leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, was taken into police custody and still rots in jail awaiting trial to this day. Other leaders, like Maria Corina Machado, have been designated traitors to the government. Unrest has, for the most part, been crushed. 

The way things are, however, and with the government as tone deaf as it has been, it’s only a matter of time before Venezuelans take to the streets once again. The question traders are asking from New York City to Hong Kong is… will the people break before the economy does?

Speaking on a visit to Doha on Monday, President Nicolas Maduro stuck to the party line, blaming oil’s ruinous price plunge on the global capitalism “of the north.”

“The capitalism of the world of the north is trying to destroy OPEC, to control sources of energy, to destroy the just prices that we need and have been assimilated by the entire world,” said Maduro. 

Apparently no one told him that prices change. If he needs a primer, he should ask the Venezuelan people. They have been learning that lesson in the hardest way possible.

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