“We will bring in 50 million to show those groups that they won’t make us bow down,” he said.
That was little comfort to consumers struggling to find bathroom supplies. Several supermarkets visited by The Associated Press in the capital on Wednesday and Thursday were out of toilet paper. Those that received fresh batches quickly filled up with shoppers as the word spread.
“I’ve been looking for it for two weeks,” Cristina Ramos said at a store on Wednesday. “I was told that they had some here and now I’m in line.”
Finance Minister Nelson Merentes said the government was also addressing the lack of foreign currency, which has resulted in the suspension of foreign supplies of raw materials, equipment and spare parts to Venezuelan companies, disrupting their production.
“We are making progress … we have to work very hard,” Merentes told reporters Wednesday.
Many factories operate at half capacity because the currency controls make it hard for them to pay for imported parts and materials. Business leaders say some companies verge on bankruptcy because they cannot extend lines of credit with foreign suppliers.
Merentes said the government had met the U.S. dollar requests of some 1,500 small- and medium-sized companies facing supply problems, and was reviewing requests from a similar number of larger companies.
Chavez imposed currency controls a decade ago trying to stem capital flight as his government expropriated large land parcels and dozens of businesses.
Anointed by Chavez as his successor before the president died from cancer, Maduro won a close presidential election April 14 against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who refused to accept the result, claiming Maduro won through fraud and voter intimidation. He filed a complaint to the Supreme Court, asking for the vote to be annulled, though that’s highly unlikely to happen since the court is packed with government-friendly justices.
Patience is wearing thin among consumers who face shortages and long lines at supermarkets and pharmacies. Last month, Venezuela’s scarcity index reached its highest level since 2009, while the 12-month inflation rate has risen to nearly 30 percent. Shoppers often spend several days looking for basic items, and stock up when they find them.