Thursday, May 09, 2013

Massive shortages of corn flour in Venezuela

Line at a La32, a Chinese everything joint
This week we have seen dramatic shortages of the Venezuelan basic staple, at least outside of Caracas and in low income social classes: corn flour.  Newspapers in Caracas are strangely silent about it but other papers like El Impulso of Barquisimeto are more vocal.  Yesterday and today driving around San Felipe I saw long lines of people. But today was top: in a single short errand I saw three, 3, long lines of people waiting for a single thing: Harina P.A.N., the most basic, well known staple of the Venezuelan kitchen, now available world wide except in Venezuela. I managed to take two pics for you, but that is not all.

El Impulso earlier this week was showing front page the ridiculous long line in a Barquisimeto location, but also, way more damming, how people were branded for their turn in line!!!  I am also putting these pictures at the end of this entry.

Line at MAKRO San Felipe, coming from INSIDE the store out.

What can we make out of this?

First, that ration cards are not far in the future. Though in Venezuela it may be easier for the regime to be highly unjust and limit itself to branding people as an easier way to "manage" the food shortage.

Branding people, El Pueblo, in line.
Second, it is clear, crudely clear, that the regime has been so focused on its political survival since last year opposition primaries that it has simply neglected to attend to economic matters, has not taken previsions for a diminished corn crop, has no money to buy corn at world price, not to mention that corn meal for Venezuelan Arepa is different than the one used for Tacos and Tamales in Mexico. Venezuelan Corn meal is pre cooked in a process that allows for preparation of an arepa. Thus you cannot make tacos with Harina PAN just as you cannot make arepas with any brand of Mexican corn flour you may find.

And to make this even worse, Venezuelans like their corn meal from white corn, not yellow corn. So finding white corn overseas is not easy because Venezuela is the main consumer of white corn, and used to be the biggest producer probably  But even the few eccentrics like yours truly who much prefer yellow corn meal for their arepas cannot find it anyway. In San Felipe or Caracas it has been more than one year since last time I saw yellow corn meal. I have been told that it can be found only in Oriente where people have a liking for that more flavored variety of corn but even there it is in short supply so the regime does not allow it to be sent to other states. Or something like that since no one in the government is willing to fess up to their incompetence and Polar is certainly not going to make a fuss about it, so harassed it is already by governmental abuse.
Line for Harina PAN in Barquisimeto, across the highway through the on foot pass.

Speaking of Polar. This food manufacturing giant of Venezuela is always under threat but produces more than ever the bulk of corn flour in Venezuela. All the attempts by the government at producing their own brand of corn flour have failed because of its inherent incompetence or simply because they produce a sub par product and lower classes are willing, if allowed to, to pay a surplus for Harina PAN. Meanwhile long ago Polar has set shop in Colombia from where it can export to the world Harina PAN, found in specialty stores from Sidney to Paris.  This, of course  underlines that if Polar were left to work on its own in Venezuela and were not harassed by the regime as it is, there would not be a corn meal crisis today. Period.

Fascist branding? Or is that Commie branding? I get confused sometimes....
I invite you to read the post before this one on why Venezuela's agribusiness is under such stress, to help you to understand better why do we have to brand people in line in the hope of avoiding a riot....


  1. Anonymous12:59 PM

    It appears the Maduro is using Chavez' method of facing a problem. Just appoint a new minister and make international agreements in exchange for oil. This did not work for Chavez and will not work for Maduro.

    Even hard-core Chavistas must have second thoughts about Maduro when standing in a long line to buy arepa flour. Chavismo's decline is accelerating.

  2. wow, this is crazy, I know a lot of those quincalleria places, considering a fairly decent amount of my family members own them, but anyways, they sent me pictures of people waiting in line for butter... so question I have is, how long will Venezuelans really live with this reality? and what about those that actually have to work and cannot sit there in line all day, when will they decide enough is enough? and if they do decide this, will they actually go out and do something about it forcefully? thats the other question....

    1. Oh good! A Chinese relative!!! Readers reach far.....

      Yes indeed, though it is not butter but "margarina" they stand in line for, which does not need to be refrigerated. Butter is a luxury item, scarce to find these days even for those willing to pay the price.

      This being said I feel very sorry for your relatives. Chinese immigrants, criticized for many things, seem to be the lone ones willing to put up with the harassment that it is to manage a quincalla today. Only by working as a family outside of required timetables and schedules do they manage to make such a business viable. And yet the populace resents them often and on occasion has no qualms in looting "el chino" even if afterwards they will be left without a store to go for their basic needs in the area, requiring to go long distances to stand in line for whatever...

      This is really a fucked up country and I take the opportunity to thank your relatives to still try to make something out of it.

    2. dittoed sentiments.

    3. NorskeDiv12:35 AM

      Ignorant people always think Chinese owners of retail outlets are wealthy, in reality they work longer hours than almost any other worker. Having a store full of products doesn't mean you are wealthy. Filling that niche right now in Venezuela must be brutal right now, and they are tied down and can't leave. I feel for them.

      To make it even worse, in Venezuela they can't legally protect themselves.

    4. NorskeDiv,

      Some are rich, and so what?


    5. Well, I've been a reader since 2006, I'd like to thank you for an amazing blog, and for doing radio shows, as I have been listening to them whenever you post them. At any rate, I'm Venezuelan born chinese, who lived in the states Most of my life, although I have been back yearly since 2010. My spanish is still a work in progress, I've always wondered why I never found real butter in Venezuela, but since you mentioned without need of refrigeration, that explains the need for margarine. To be honest, I'm a Venezuelan-Italian American in a chinese body, thats the best way to describe myself, but I can vouch for what you guys are saying, the chinese in venezuela are one of the most craziest people on earth, they take a lot of crap from a lot of people (government, locals, authority figures) in venezuela, and in my opinion they do not help themselves that much in the venezuelan culture.

      The Chinese culture in general allows for a lot of criticism to be taken, and to take a beating by society, its part of their culture, however, they do actually get some real benefits back for all the beatings they get in venezuela, whether verbal or physical, etc, remember the chinese have had communism in their past, so when Chavez came, let's just say they were one step ahead of the game in the currency regime, and with cadivi, etc.. they learned the loop holes fast, and they cared more for USD than they did the local currency.. so they learned really fast how to make money in Venezuela, let's just say they made a significant amount more during the Chavez years then they have in any other time in other time in Venezuela. I don't know all the details, but I do know they make themselves quite comfortable in ways that I don't even understand. (although they are not rich per say in a first world sense, but they are building their future retirement from venezuela, but to be lived in back in china. )

    6. With that being said, here is my take on the Chinese Venezuelan life.. they do work long hours, and I mean REALLY Long, (since I work in the states, I can attest that they literally spend every waking moment working, and hardly have time off to do anything, and let me tell u, its not really worth it in my opinion...) they are extremely fearful at night to be outside, they are extremely untrusting of Venezuelans, whether you are good or not, it doesnt matter, racism occurs both ways. The Chinese in Venezuela do not help themselves by

      1, not learning the language,
      2, not wanting to be apart of the society,
      3 being so distrustful that they really give a bad taste to those around them,
      4 paying the bribes asked by Venezuelan officials willingly without a fight. (this just ruins future chinese that come there.) (ala me getting my cedula, each time i tried to get this, always seem like they are waiting for a handout or something even though I have all my paperwork legitimately..)

      now remember, I'm venezuelan first and for most, what I hated to see in Venezuela is the amount of chinese from china doing construction work in Venezuela and getting paid USD. why in the world would the venezuelan government pay them in USD, but never offer the same price to a local venezuelan construction company, who one knows the terrain, two, knows the people, three, is capable and knowledgable to build homes at higher quality than the chinese.... I would almost bet that if USD cash was given to a venezuelan company rather than BsF, some company in venezuela would consider doing the work...

      anyways, my experiences in venezuela is let's just say interesting... it really is the wild wild west out there, the people themselves dont really understand the world around them, goes to show the education still needs a lot of work (even though it had some great universities at some point in time) also I hated the fact that I had to ask a Cuban official in one of the registro to a copy of my birth certificate expedited... really?!?! a cuban?!?!?! thats when I saw the cuban colonization that you guys keep talking about in the blogs... in other words, it confirmed that my sources for Venezuelan news and opinions are not far fetched, look, i'm a fair guy, I tried to find a reason to like Chavez, I understand why they like him, but its short sighted, and never was sustainable, but in their minds, its possible only because its an oil country. it seems econ 101 and the idea of supply and demand still is ignored by people, even though they live it with all the shortages... sigh... look, i got venezuelan families and chinese families out there, and i feel for them, i really do... but I dont know enough typical Venezuelans to understand how long they are really willing to suffer through this mess...

    7. @Daniel L. Chan, thanks so much for your posts and for the insight into a population overlooked by many people in VZ.

  3. Have they blamed speculating, hoarding and sabotage yet?

    1. They have tried but the disaster is too big. Hoarding and speculation alone cannot explain the need for WWII nazi branding.

  4. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Venezuelans have some of the most creative protests. For example, when citizens showed up outside PDVSA headquarters with empty maletas asking for them to be filled with cash. Absolutely perfect!

    Maybe its time for citizens to bring empty plates and silverware and stand outside the AN asking for food. This is to complement banging cooking pots. Other places might be outside Maduro's residence, or the CNE.

    A protest on the toilet paper shortage could have people standing outside the AN with their dirty ..... Never mind, you get the idea.

  5. 1979 Boat People4:29 PM

    The pictures reminds me of the old days under the commie thugs back then.

  6. Daniel Harina Pan is available in most of our local supermarkets in Katy/Houston area. It's not a specialty item and is priced well too.

    1. Michel Garcia6:54 PM

      I know people (with money) that just gave up trying to find Harina P.A.N. in supermarkets here and buys it from Amazon. Believe it or not...

    2. Anonymous7:16 PM

      We also have plenty of Harina Pan in supermarkets in South Florida including my local Publix in the city of Weston, not to mention multiple products from South and Central america, it is hard to live under the rule of the imperialists!!! (Just kidding...)

  7. Anonymous8:12 PM

    I just purchased it too at a regular supermarket in Santiago, Chile, and i gotta say it was really sad seeing that it was produced in Colombia when that product used to be like our identity, it was associated to venezuela right away, like tacos with Mexico.....

  8. NorskeDiv12:15 AM

    Could this be related to the seizure a few months ago of Harina PAN? It was around 400 tons. I imagine that messed up the distribution network a lot.

    1. Polar produces 50.000 tons of Harina PAN every month. 400 tons is about a quarter of the production of one day. Those seizures by the government are just a propaganda ploy to accuse Polar of hoarding the product. They know very well that is just inventory in transit.

    2. In other words 400 tons is a drop in the bucket. According to Polar they are producing at full capacity but they traditionally account for 48% of the corn meal production. The problem is that none of the other brands (Juana, Promasa, De Maiz, ...) are producing enough and Polar cannot cover the demand alone.

    3. NorskeDiv3:18 PM

      Yeah, your right, that quantity wouldn't have made a difference.

      Check this out though, absolutely hilarious!

      They have an example of how dysfunctional their "socialist" revolution is, but they can't wrap their tick skulls around it. Guess what, Harina P.A.N in Walmart has NOTHING to do with you, or Venezuela, it's made in Colombia and exported to the US. No matter how much whining and crying about an "economic coup" you do will not stop cheap products from being plentiful outside of your backwards little social experiment.

      Time to make "Gran Mission Harina P.A.N"

    4. Chavistas are completely lunatic now. They see harina PAN abroad and think just the contrary of what any common sense person would think: they think it doesn't have to do with Chavismo's failure but with a complot of the USA.
      Oh, God!

    5. what part of being able to sell it freely abroad and currency being worth something that can buy inputs do the Venezuelan government not understand? the Harina Pan is made in Columbia, the Peso can be freely converted to Dollars, and they are able and ALLOWED to ship outside of Columbia. If the moduro government is complaining about seeing Harina Pan outside venezuela, they can simply do what they do best, IMPORT, like... import them from Columbia... i mean, either way Polar will get Paid, Harina PAN is a steal in Venezuela, especially when you look at it in the black market price..

  9. Anonymous9:35 PM

    I can buy harina pan in michigan no problem

  10. I buy PAN at the Mexican market down the street for $3.39 a kilo for the the last 6 months. This is produced in Colombia and is in Spanglish with words like "100% White Corn", "50 years of Savory Tradition". Instant Dough" printed on it! Much different than when it came from Venezuela and I bought it at Walmart (about 2.50$) before exporting it became a crime! I have to say that those last bags from Venezuela tasted like mouse piss! Producing the product in Venezuela seems to have become very difficult.
    I can hear Cilia saying "If there is no Harina PAN, let the eat Cuban Sandwiches"! What set off the French Revolution was that the Wheat crop failed for several years and there was no backup food to keep the people going and it would seem no imports.
    This brings up the question of who would be stupid enough destroy Venezuelas already critical domestic food supply? The Cubans? Except for Cane sugar they have had shortages since 1958! If anything, they would have pushed Chavez (peace be upon him) to increase production and provided a ready market for socialist food. China? They are also big buyers and not sellers. That leaves us with the Mercorsur group and us Yankees. Now, its not so much about controling markets as it is land for production. Mulitnational Aribusiness controls land all over the world. Somebody wants Venezuelan production and at rock bottom prices. Perhaps food for votes was the original concept, but, that does not seem to be working well.

  11. Great article, please keep blogging so the truth gets out. Just bought two packages of Harina Pan at a local bodega in Palm Beach County, yes, produced in Colombia. I agree, tasted fine, unlike the package of Vzln HP we got last month that was full of weevils! Also bought Colombian Tody, Savoy, others. No cri-cris, torontos for over a year! We do have butter ($2.34 USD perlb) toilet paper, tocino, carne molida, masa de cerdo, bistek de bollo ($2.17 cada lb.), and TOILET PAPER 42 rolls $4.50...we also do not have a pResident who looks and talks like an animated statue of a malandro, but with eeyore's ears. Healthcare here in the States is very expensive, insurance not exactly affordable, but it remains workable. At least the clinics do not look like a bus station from hell! Headline this morning proclaimed the Maburro's Government hasannounced the TP shortage is fixed...and least the talking aboutthe shortage on national TV has been fixed, since they are dismantling Globo. Regarding Radio Bemba, they haven't quite figured that out yet, my family told me.

  12. Cillia will follow the lead ofher cuban Satraps, who won a Food Security award last week from ONU...she will truly recommend that the people eat insects while she takes queso guayanese and asado negro on her arepas foolowed by a heapping plate of bienmesabe washed down with a liter or two of chicha andino while watching her culo get even fatter!


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