In an episode of SBS VICELAND's States of Undress, host Hailey Gates gets her period. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but she’s in Venezuela, which means it takes her three days to purchase sanitary pads illegally from a black market "bachaquero" with a 1500 percent mark-up due to government regulations and price controls.
It’s not just women’s hygiene products that are scarce in the South American nation. Due to the economic policy imposed by the previous Hugo Chávez government and upheld by his successor, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuelan people are also facing shortages when it comes to basic food items like milk, bread and cooking oil. Even Coca-Cola had to halt production there last year because of a national sugar shortage.
Perhaps the most undignified of all is the shortage of wooden coffins, which due to expense and scarcity have been replaced by biodegradable cardboard replicas. Last year, inflation in Venezuela was estimated to have hit 500 percent, with prices for coffins skyrocketing far beyond most Venezuelans' yearly salary.
The problems arising from the mass shortages are countless, but here’s a look at a few of the most intriguing.
The bread war
Venezuela is currently facing a bread famine. Reuters reports that almost 80 percent of bakeries are out of wheat. Worse yet, though the country is already facing a massive food crisis, the government is cracking down on bakeries that breach the nation’s "bread rules" - yep, that’s really a thing.
Last month, two bakeries were closed down after President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government imposed a law that 90 percent of wheat in the country must be used to make loaves of bread, leaving a measly 10 percent to make pastries and cakes. Inspectors descended on some 700 bakeries in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas and four bakers were placed under arrest for breaking the rules - two for misuse of wheat, and two for using expired wheat to make and sell brownies.
The government has defended its strong-armed stance on all things delicious by insisting that pro-opposition businesses are sabotaging Venezuela’s economy by hiking prices and stockpiling products. Most insist the government is to blame.
A women’s issue
In July of 2016, the retail price of government regulated tampons and other sanitary supplies jumped a whopping 1800 percent. The inflated price means the average Venezuelan woman would need to spend a third of her monthly wages on feminine care products. When the price increase skyrocketed, Venezuelan websites began auctioning sanitary pads and tampons online, and black market vendors list them as one of the hardest requests to fulfil.
Government regulated tampons? It sounds like a joke, but it’s a dehumanising and devastating reality for women in Venezuela, with reports that newspapers are now being used as alternatives. Despite ongoing offers of aid from organisations like Amnesty International and the UN, the government refuses to accept foreign assistance.
While it’s always good to hear of new green business initiatives when it comes to the environment, there is little joy to be found in the death sector. Still, you can’t help but admire the entrepreneurial spirit of Alejandro Blanchard and Elio Angulo, the two men behind biodegradable coffins. Like most materials, the expense of wood and brass is currently too high for the majority of Venezuelans, meaning a traditional casket is financially unobtainable.
Three years ago, Blanchard and Angulo began producing light-weight cardboard coffins that come flat packed and can hold up to 230kg of weight. Their wares have been well received by funeral homes in Valencia, which reportedly has one of the world's highest murder rates.
The entire first season of SBS VICELAND’s States of Undress, including the Venezuela episode, is now streaming on SBS On Demand: