What is Behind Venezuela's Food Shortages? (+video)

AJE's Inside Story Americas asks if President Maduro can improve the country's economy and put an end to shortage of food items and basic goods. Panel members include VA.com's Greg Wilpert.

By Inside Story Americas - Al Jazeera

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This week Venezuela's election council announced that an audit of the results of the country's presidential election confirmed that Nicolas Maduro won by 1.5 percentage points over Henrique Capriles in the coutnry's presidential election in April.

Maduro's supporters hope that this confirmation will put any doubts about the legitimacy of his win to rest, as the country suffers from a shortage of foods and some basic goods.

On Sunday, Maduro halted a plan to restrict the sale of 20 basic food items in the state of Zulia calling it 'insane'. Instead he said the best way to counter the shortage is to 'produce, produce, produce'.

Inflation is on the rise in Venezuela and critics suggest the country's economy is overly centralised and too dependent on oil.

But Maduro's supporters point out since Hugo Chavez began his Bolivarian Revolution; inflation has been considerably less than under his neo-liberal predecessors, Rafael Caldera and Carlos Perez.

The government is also trying to negate the impact of inflation with price controls on some basic items and the provision of subsidised groceries and welfare services.

The irony is that the shortages come at a time when Venezuela is receiving international plaudits for reaching its UN targets on eradicating hunger earlier than most other countries in the world.

But just two months into his presidency, Nicolas Maduro faces some serious economic challenges, such as the rising inflation rate, which was 6.1 percent for the month of May.

And the accumulated inflation rate for 2013 up to May is close to 20 percent, which is the same as it was for all of 2012.

Food prices were up 10 percent in May adding to the problems already created by food shortages.

And economic growth in the country slowed to less than one percent in the first quarter of the year, compared to almost six percent during the same period last year.

So, will President Maduro succeed in sorting out Venezuela's economy and put an end to the food shortages?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA); Greory Wilpert, an editor of the website venezuelaanalysis.com; and Miguel Tinker, a professor of Latin American History at Pomona College.