Venezuela votes $79 million to deal with massive toilet paper shortage

The shortage is blamed on price and foreign currency controls by government.

Venezuela’s National Assembly has approved plans to import 39 million rolls of toilet paper, in an effort to relieve a prolonged shortage that sent consumers scramble to stock the product.

Lawmakers voted to approve a $79m credit for the country’s ministry of commerce, which will also be used to buy toothpaste and soap, the BBC reported.

Years of economic dysfunction have made the South American country used to shortages of medicines and basic food items like milk and sugar. But the scarcity of bathroom tissue has caused unusual alarm.

“Even at my age, I’ve never seen this,” a 70-year-old Maria Rojas was quoted last week by the AP. She said she had been looking for toilet paper for two weeks when she finally found it at a supermarket in downtown Caracas.

The shortage is believed to stem from the oil-rich nation’s control on foreign currencies and price controls meant to make basic amenities available to all parts of the country, the poorest areas inclusive.

But its new president, Nicolas Maduro, who won a narrow majority in April’s presidential elections, maintains that the country’s periodic shortages of basic goods are the result of a conspiracy by the opposition and rich sectors of society.

Mr. Maduro has vowed to uphold the legacy of his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, whose “21st-Century socialism” involved sweeping nationalization and extensive social programmes.

The government last week announced it would import 760,000 tons of food and 50 million rolls of toilet paper.

The county’s Finance Minister, Nelson Merentes, said the government was also addressing the lack of foreign currency, which has resulted in the suspension of foreign supplies of raw materials, equipment and spare parts to Venezuelan companies, disrupting their production.

Many factories operate at half capacity because the currency controls make it hard for them to pay for imported parts and materials, the AP adds.

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