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Between Import Woes and a Union Strike, Venezuela May Run Out of Beer

A Chavista union demanding higher wages, combined with difficulties in importing necessary ingredients, are threatening to leave Venezuela without beer. The potential scarcity of the extremely popular beverage is just the latest in a string of increasingly difficult to find common goods in the socialist nation.

Polar Pilsen, the nation’s biggest brewery, producing about 80% of the beer consumed in the nation, is facing a strike that could severely limit the quantity of beer it is producing. Sintraterricentro, a union Spanish newspaper El País describes as “a miniscule faction of a syndicate supported by Chavistas,” has organized the strike and recruited some of the brewery’s key members, leaving production stalled in two production plants and four of fifteen distribution centers. The brewery’s workers have not been producing beer since Wednesday, July 3.

The Associated Press notes that the halt has not yet affected the amount of beer in stores, and Venezuelans are still buying in large quantities. The fact that the head of the Polar brewery has been designated an enemy of socialist President Nicolás Maduro does not bode well, however, for the future of Polar. The brewery is part of a much larger food enterprise run by president Lorenzo Mendoza, who in April sent a letter to President Maduro stating that his corporation is open to negotiating with the government to aid in solving the growing scarcity crisis that has forced millions of Venezuelans to make lines at supermarkets for hours to buy household items such as milk and vegetable oil.

Mendoza has been met with open animosity from chavistas due to his status as the head of a private corporation. Chavista columnists have referred to him as a “class enemy.” Maduro himself, notes El País, has dismissively referred to Mendoza as “pelucón” (“bigwig”) at the forefront of the “economic war” against Venezuela, an alleged conspiracy against the Venezuelan socialists orchestrated by, among other people, Vice President Joe Biden.

In addition to the anti-capitalist moves against Polar, the Venezuelan economic crisis has made it extremely difficult to import certain ingredients necessary in the development of beer, which cannot be grown in Venezuela due to its tropical climate. The Venezuelan Chamber of Beer Fabricators (Caveface) has stated that it believes the nation has imported enough to keep manufacturing into August. The major fear Caveface leaders have expressed publicly is that any halt in beer production will take weeks to reverse. Caveface executive director Omaira Sayago told reporters this week that, “If a plant stops working for three weeks, it will take up to 16 weeks to return to an equilibrium point.”

According to Caveface, the beer industry employes 12 million people directly and 100 million indirectly and is responsible for 3% of the nation’s tax intake. Venezuelans consume more beer than any Latin American country, and alcohol has remained among the most thriving sectors of an otherwise tanking economy for years. A beer shortage would add to the nation’s shortages on everything from toilet paper to laundry detergent.

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