On Tuesday January 6th, we had yet another case of “I can’t believe he tweeted that”.
The news that McDonald’s might stop selling its famous fries in Venezuela has been circling around for a couple of days now. The company claims a labor dispute in West Coast ports is slowing down exports. McDonald’s Japan actually rationed fries in December, 2014 for the same reason.
Still, it is curious that Venezuelans are the only ones in Latin America hearing “forget the French fries. How about a side of yuca with that Big Mac?”, as the AP reporter Hannah Dreier writes.
So, is it the ports, or is it the lack of currency to import fries? Well, enter Dante Rivas –current Autoridad Única Nacional en Trámites y Permisología en Venezuela (i.e., the Permit Czar) and one of the barajitas repetidas, one of many government bureaucrats that shift from one office to the next every three months or so. He tweeted:
“Se acabaron las papa fritas en macdonald q vaina mas buena, bienvenida la turbulencia, ahora a comer yuca frita hecha 100% en venezuela.”
More or less: “McDonald’s ran out of French fries. Pretty cool. We welcome the turbulence. Now we shall eat yuca 100% Venezuelan made”.
So far, not good… but not so bad.
Then Dante went on and tweeted -and then erased-:
“El que quiera comer importado, como no, que lo haga, pero con los dólares suyos no con las divisas de todos.”
More or less: “Whoever wants to eat imported food, go right ahead, but with your own dollars and not with the country’s dollars”.
Case closed: the fry shortage is directly linked to lack of access for dollars.
Now there’s a couple of things we would like to say to Dante.
First of all, according to Venezuela’s Central Government, at least 50% of the food we consume is imported. This was all the way back in October 2013, when Venezuela had lower scarcity levels and higher levels of domestic production. The yuca may be produced locally, but 5 of every 10 items you eat are imported. (Side note: what about the cooking oil you fry the yuca in? You know, the stuff we import? Or does Dante expect us to eat raw yuca?)
Secondly, there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat imported foods. If I work hard for my money, and want to buy an imported burger with fries, that should be my choice, not his or anybody else’s. And we all know how much Venezuelans looooove their McDonald’s.
And last, but no least, the country’s dollars are also the people’s dollars. We should have free access to buy dollars with our hard-earned Bolivares and to spend those dollars as we choose. Let’s not forget that 96% of Venezuela’s currency comes from oil exports. And it’s “our” oil, right?
With Venezuela’s oil prices reaching the 40 dollar mark, the country will have an even more acute shortage of currency. The problem is not that we won’t be able to buy a burger with a side of fries. The problem is that if the Central Government doesn’t take the necessary actions to solve the current economic crisis –high inflation, high scarcity and recession-, we might not even be able to make an arepa with a side of yuca.
Venezuela’s economic problems are waaaay beyond this french fries issue. This is just a symptom of a failed system.