Venezuelans Boycott Black Market Amid Surging Banana Prices

Venezuelan consumers took to social media Friday vowing to boycott black market vendors, after months of rising food prices.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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Food prices on the black market have soared in recent months (CdO)
Food prices on the black market have soared in recent months (CdO)

Puebla, Mexico, August 19th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan consumers took to social media Friday vowing to boycott black market vendors, after months of rising food prices.

Organised by pro-government activists, the rolling boycott has already garnered the support of hundreds of Venezuelan social media users, along with state media.

“The week 15 to 21 August, bananas and plantains being sold for excessive prices will be boycotted; from 22 to 29 August, we’ll be boycotting tomatoes and paprika, 30 to September 6 it’ll be onions and brown sugar,” organisers said in a statement circulated on social media. They also urged consumers to start growing their own food.

State newspaper Correo del Orinoco welcomed the social media campaign, arguing the country’s struggle with soaring food prices isn’t just a challenge for the government.

“The people are obliged to participate in this [boycott] offensive, to halt … the economic war,” the newspaper declared.

Venezuela is currently in the grip of its worst economic crisis in years, with the economy contracting by 5.7% last year. Between September 2014 and 2015, food prices increased by 254.3%, amid shortages of basic consumer goods ranging from cornflour to coffee and medicine.

Earlier this month the latest in a series of wage increases came into effect, increasing the minimum monthly wage to BsF22,576 (US$ 35). An additional food bonus was also increased to BsF42,480 (US$66).

Comparably, a 500 gram jar of coffee often costs BsF5000 on the black market, which is roughly equal to one third of a minimum wage earner’s weekly income. A kilo of powdered milk costs around BsF3000 on the street – the equivalent of a day’s wages on minimum income. Official prices for these goods can be thousands of times less. At the government’s fixed price, that BsF3000 tin of powdered milk should cost BsF70.

The goods being boycotted by consumers this week, bananas and plantains, have recently seen major price rises on the black market, and are now often sold for over BsF1000 per bunch.

The government has long vowed to crack down on black market vendors, along with supermarkets charging above regulated prices.

On Friday, six people were arrested in a Caracas marketplace for alleged price gouging and hoarding of consumer products. Authorities claimed in one bust alone, they uncovered a liquor store hoarding a ton of food and hygiene products.