Business & Economy

Sky-high prices a fact of life in mineral-rich Venezuelan state

By Genesis Carrero Soto

Bolivar state, Venezuela, Apr 21 (EFE) – The southeastern Venezuelan state of Bolivar is a land of great hydroelectric potential and abundant wealth of iron ore, gold, platinum, diamonds and other minerals.

But residents there are currently facing a slew of economic problems: a lack of available cash, socioeconomic disparities and sky-high prices for of a range of products and services.

A pizza dinner in Bolivar, for example, can be twice as expensive as one in Caracas, while the price of potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables are frequently double what is found in other border states.

“Everything, everything is extremely expensive,” Daniela Ramirez told Efe while paying around $70 for a batch of seven food items that included vegetables and carbohydrates but no meat.

Bolivar-based economist Marco Tulio Mendez said there also is a marked social divide in the state that is notable in places like Ciudad Guayana.

The largest urban area of that region, that city is divided into the low-income community of San Felix and the more affluent Puerto Ordaz, which was planned and built in the early 1960s to be an industrial driver of national development.

While San Felix is a district home to houses made of zinc and improvised waste dumps, Puerto Ordaz has residential areas and clean streets. And that wealth inequality is characteristic of Bolivar as a whole and a feature that distinguishes it from the rest of Venezuela.

Mendez recalled that the promise of mining wealth and the planning of part of Ciudad Guayana as a home for industrial workers created a sort of “bubble” that led to a natural increase in prices even as waning prosperity has caused the city’s development to stagnate.

“It’s an economy that revolves around mining activity … and that makes it very unique. So there are certain problems associated with it that other regions of the country don’t have,” he added.

Now, during the pandemic, the cost of shipping merchandise and restrictions associated with the Covid-19 crisis remain obstacles difficult to overcome.

Daniel Barrios, owner of a hardware store in downtown Puerto Ordaz, told Efe that prices are clearly higher in Bolivar than the rest of the country, pointing to the long distance that separates the state from where its suppliers are located.

“Undoubtedly, yes. Our suppliers are more in the center of the country, and that causes freight prices to rise because the majority charge a shipping rate of 7 or 10 percent, which is a cost you have to include in the price of the product,” he said.

High prices and low profit margins for businesses are prompting many residents of Ciudad Guayana to consider relocating to the southern part of Bolivar state and working in informal mines, an economic activity dominated by crime syndicates.

“It’s always a temptation (to go to the mines) because you can earn a high income, but from my point of view, also seeing all the risks they run, it’s preferable to stay where you are, working,” Rudy Castillo, a retailer in San Felix’s municipal market, told Efe.

Amid the challenging scenario, Catherine Wilson, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Caroni, a Bolivar municipality whose capital is Ciudad Guayana, praised the efforts of private retailers and entrepreneurs.

She said they are navigating the current difficulties and helping to keep the economy of Venezuela’s priciest state afloat. EFE


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