CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans scrambled to stock up on toilet paper Thursday as fears of a bathroom emergency spread despite the socialist government’s promise to import 50 million rolls.
After years of economic dysfunction, the country has gotten used to shortages of medicines and basic food items like milk and sugar but the scarcity of bathroom tissue has caused unusual alarm.
“Even at my age, I’ve never seen this,” said 70-year-old Maria Rojas. She said she had been looking for toilet paper for two weeks when she finally found it at a supermarket in downtown Caracas.
Thousands of rolls flew off the store’s shelves as consumers streamed in and loaded up shopping carts Thursday morning.
“I bought it because it’s hard to find,” said Maria Perez, walking out with several rolls of paper.
“Here there’s a shortage of everything — butter, sugar, flour,” she said. But the latest shortage is particularly worrisome “because there always used to be toilet paper.”
Economists say Venezuela’s shortages of some consumer products stem from price controls meant to make basic goods available to the poorest parts of society and the government’s controls on foreign currency.
President Nicolas Maduro, who was selected by the dying Hugo Chavez to carry on his “Bolivarian revolution,” claims that anti-government forces, including the private sector, are causing the shortages in an effort to destabilize the country.
The government this week announced it would import 760,000 tons of food and 50 million rolls of toilet paper.
Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming said “excessive demand” for tissue had built up due to a “media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country.”
He said monthly consumption of toilet paper was normally 125 million rolls, but current demand “leads us to think that 40 million more are required.”