By Ron Gonzalez
Caracas, Mar 16 (efe-epa) .- Disappointment is etched on the face of Maria Ponte as she exits a butcher’s shop in Petare, the Venezuelan capital’s largest slum. She had gone there in hopes that prices may have somehow plummeted and allowed her to eat meat for the first time this year.
But even though the store’s refrigerators were filled, the woman walked out carrying only several kilos of chicken skin that she will use to make her own oil for frying eggs and arepas, a corn cake that is a staple food in Venezuela.
“I haven’t eaten a piece of meat in more than 3 months,” Ponte told Efe. “It was a steak that my son and I ate. And it’s just the two of us at home.”
In another part of Petare, Encarnacion Almarza, a retiree, buys several kilos of meat, but not for her own family.
Instead, she told Efe she will use it to prepare the “cachitos” (meat-filled pastries) she sells to supplement her income.
Venezuelans are foregoing meat not because of scarcity or high prices but due to the low purchasing power of workers, the president of the National Federation of Cattle Ranchers (Fedenaga), Armando Chacin, said in a telephone interview with Efe.
“Venezuelan meat is the most economical in Latin America,” he added. “But the problem of low purchasing power has caused a drop in Venezuelans’ protein consumption.”
While a kilo of meat costs between $4 and $6, a price that would be considered affordable in many other countries, retirees and public-sector employees consulted by Efe say their income, even in a good month, does not exceed $10.
Low wages amid years of economic contraction have caused meat consumption in Venezuela to fall from more than 65 kilos per capita in 1999 – the year in which late President Hugo Chavez came to power – to just three kilos per capita in 2020.
The United States, which has imposed harsh sanctions aimed at ousting Chavez’s protege and successor, socialist Nicolas Maduro, for allegedly rigging the most recent presidential election in 2018, blames economic mismanagement and anti-market policies for the oil-rich nation’s economic woes.
Venezuela, however, says former President Donald Trump sought to destroy the Caribbean nation’s economy – and prevent it from addressing the needs of its population – up until his final days in office.
Maduro has expressed hope for a “profound rectification” of US policy toward Venezuela under new head of state Joe Biden, although there are no signs yet of a substantive shift.
Due to their financial constraints, many in Venezuela have started to radically adjust their diets and stop consuming meat altogether.
The country’s hardships, meanwhile, also have prompted Venezuelan ranchers to seek government authorization for the export of slaughter-ready cattle.
But Chacin said the situation is complicated by the fact Venezuela’s livestock sector lacks certification as free of foot-and-mouth disease by vaccination.
“If we were to start vaccinating our cattle today, in four years we could be exporting. As you can see, compared to (other) countries of the region, we’re at a disadvantage,” Fedenaga’s president said. EFE-EPA