CARACAS – Police in Venezuela this week arrested four bakers for making “illegal brownies and other pastries” as the South American nation faces massive wheat shortage.
The action follow President Nicolas Maduro’s threat to take over bakeries in Caracas as part of a new “bread war”.
“They’re going to pay, I swear. Those responsible for the bread war are going to pay and they better not complain that it was a political persecution,” he said earlier this week.
And, according to Vice President Tareck El Aissami: “”Bakeries which do not follow [the rules] will be occupied by the government.”
In order to comply with the rationing imposed by the socialist government, 90% of all flour provided to bakeries by the government must be used to make bread and not fancy pastries.
More than 700 bakeries were visited and searched by food inspectors and armed soldiers to enforce the Maduro’s rule.
During the inspections, two men were arrested as their bakery was using too much wheat in sweet bread, ham-filled croissants and other products, the state Superintendency of Fair Prices said in a statement sent to media.
Another two were detained for making brownies with out-of-date wheat, the statement added. Also, at least one bakery had been temporarily taken over by authorities for 90 days.
Venezuela has been facing severe economic crisis for the last three years as it doesn’t produce its own wheat.
In 1999, when Hugo Chavez launched his socialist agenda, Venezuelan wheat production per year was consistently just over 517 tons, barely enough for a day’s worth of consumption, but by 2014 even that had dropped to 161 tons.
Venezuela has to import almost all of its wheat, but the drop in oil prices and their declining production has cut their ability to get hard currency. As a result, the imports of wheat have declined over the last several years and flour mills have had to shut down for lack of raw material.
On the other hand, bakers blame the government for a national shortage of wheat, saying the shortage is a result of bakeries not receiving enough flour.
“Currently 80 percent of bakeries have inventories at zero, 20 percent have received 10 percent of their monthly consumption,” Fevipan said on Twitter.
Actualmente 80% de las panaderías tienen los inventarios en cero, 20% restante ha recibido el 10% de su consumo mensual #TodosSomosPanaderos
— FEVIPAN (@FEVIPAN) March 14, 2017
The group representing bakers, Fevipan, has asked for a meeting with Maduro, saying most establishments cannot anyway make ends meet without selling higher-priced products.