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Disappointment is drawn on María Ponte’s face as she leaves a butcher’s shop in the Caracas favela of Petare, Venezuela’s largest and most troubled slum. She went in there hoping that some phenomenon had driven prices down, which would have allowed her to eat meat for the first time this year.
As she left the store, the woman carried only several kilos of chicken skin, with which she will make her own oil to fry eggs and arepas, a corn flour-based bun that enjoys high popularity in Venezuela.
“I haven’t eaten a little piece of meat for more than three months,” Ponte tells EFE. “It was a steak that my son and I ate. And there are only two of us at home,” she adds.
At another point in Petare, pensioner Encarnación Almarza has better luck and buys several kilos of meat.
But then she clarifies that it is not for her house, but that she will use it to prepare the stuffed cakes she sells every day to round up her income.
That is to say, she will cook and sell the meat, not for her personal consumption, although she points out that she eats it every day, even though it is more accessible food, something that not all the inhabitants of this poor neighborhood, where the problems of the South American country find a showcase, can say.
Without purchasing power
Cases like that of Ponte and Almarza are increasingly repeated in Venezuela, a country going through the worst crisis in its modern history.
Venezuelans are consuming less and less meat because of the poor purchasing power of workers, as Armando Chacín, president of the National Federation of Cattle Breeders (Fedenaga), told EFE.
“Venezuelan meat is the cheapest in Latin America and in many countries of the world,” says Chacín in a telephone interview. “But there is an issue of scarce purchasing power that has lowered Venezuelans’ protein consumption,” he adds.
In Venezuela, the minimum wage is 1,800,000 bolivars, which is equivalent to just under one dollar, according to the Central Bank’s official exchange rate.
Around seven million people, including public employees and pensioners, receive this income, although the tyranny of socialist Nicolás Maduro assures that this group also receives more money through various social aid plans.
In any case, pensioners and public employees consulted assure that their income does not exceed, in the best of cases, 10 dollars per month, while a kilo of meat can be obtained between 4 and 6 units of US currency, a price that could be considered cheap in other countries, but not in Venezuela.
Three kilos of meat per year
This reality, Chacín explains, caused meat consumption to plummet in Venezuela and go from more than 65 kilos per capita in 1999 -the year the late former President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) came to power- to only 3 in 2020.
“In Fedenaga we understand that today there is no capacity to consume the slaughter that we are producing in the country, even though it is low”, continues Chacín.
The executive points out that Venezuela’s livestock production barely covers 40% of the requirements according to the size of the population.
“The great drama of the Venezuelan citizen is that he has the cheapest meat in Latin America, but he cannot eat it. He doesn’t have the power to buy it,” says Chacín.
As a consequence, many have begun to vary their diets, leaving out meat, a product from which they historically obtained the iron needed by the body.
Ultimately, Chavismo’s socialist policies of “redistribution of wealth” destroyed the country’s public services, private enterprise, and pushed 96% of Venezuelans into poverty.