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How Food in Venezuela Went From Subsidized to Scarce

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A woman affected by tear gas fired by security forces was carried away last month in Caracas. Her sign reads in Spanish: “Bombs. Not food. Yes, hunger advances.” Fernando Llano/Associated Press

Venezuela was once the richest country in South America, but food prices have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing many to scavenge for things to eat. The cost of basic groceries is now about five times the minimum wage.

On July 1, the monthly minimum wage was raised for the third time this year, to help control inflation. Still, the increase does little to help struggling families, and the country’s inflation rate could reach 720 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Since April, protesters have taken to the streets, demanding international food aid and early presidential elections. More than 90 people have been killed in the demonstrations. A local human rights group reported that more than 3,600 people have been arrested.

Here are the factors that led to the food crisis.

Venezuela overspent during
a period of high oil prices.

Elected in 1998, President Hugo Chávez became widely popular for his promise to share the country’s oil wealth with the poor and to guarantee food security. To fund his “21st Century Socialism” agenda, he relied on oil revenues, which accounted for 93 percent of exports in 2008.

The government imported goods and sold them at subsidized prices to make food affordable to the country’s poor.

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