Venezuelans have to deal with a recession, water and power cuts, and now are struggling to find the most basic of food items – bread. The government has responded by arresting bakers and termed the crisis a "bread war."

The food shortage in Venezuela has led to many skipping at least one meal a day.
The food shortage in Venezuela has led to many skipping at least one meal a day. (TRT World and Agencies)

Why is the government cracking down on bakers?

President Nicolas Maduro says the "greedy bakers" are hoarding flour to destabilise his government.

The government has insisted that wheat be prioritised to bake bread instead of cakes and pastries. They have gone as far as inspecting 700 bakeries in the capital, Caracas, and arresting shop-owners for baking brownies and croissants as part of the crackdown.

Maduro has termed the crisis a "bread war," saying that those responsible for the war "will pay."

"And don't go around calling it 'political persecution.'"

But the bakers insist that there simply isn't enough wheat to make bread.

The Venezuelan Federation of Bread Manufacturers says the country's 8,000 bakeries are receiving 30,000 tonnes of flour a month – four times less than they need.

"When there's flour, we sell bread. But they deliver it every 15 or 20 days. They give us 20 sacks (of 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds). In normal circumstances, we'd use eight a day," said Fran Suero, 41, an employee at a bakery on the east side of Caracas.

How did it get so bad?

Venezuela's economy, which has been heavily dependent on oil, has been hit hard since 2014 due to plummeting international oil prices.

The decrease in oil revenue put the country through a crippling three-year recession. Prices soared, hitting the 700 percent inflation mark, pushing the public to ask for Maduro to step down – calls which he has resisted.

Maduro, who was elected to succeed Hugo Chavez in 2013, claims that the cause of the economic crisis is part of an "economic war" by US-backed business interests.

The country is now divided between die-hard "Chavistas" and an increasingly outraged majority no longer willing to forgive the socialists' excesses in return for government handouts.

How has this affected flour production?

Venezuela does not produce wheat and relies heavily on importing it and then distributing it to mills.

The government heavily subsidises imports of basic food products through an artificially high exchange rate. But with oil revenues going down, the dollars needed to keep the scheme going are in short supply.

"The government isn't importing enough wheat," the president of the Industrial Flour Union, Juan Crespo, told the Miami Herald.

"If you don't have wheat, you don't have flour, and if you don't have flour, you don't have bread."

How can the government fix this?

By scrapping their current economic policy, experts say.

They say the government is to blame for its failed policies of price and currency controls and that the current economic system should be scrapped.

"Venezuela has been running enormous, unmanageable GDP deficits of more than 10 percent for years, even back when oil prices were high. Needless to say, it didn't bother to save when the takings were good, and so it now finds itself facing a kind of fiscal Armageddon," Francisco Toro writing for Vox said.

Others have suggested providing the country with humanitarian aid as a short term solution as Venezuelans face a food crisis.

Despite all of this, there is little sign the government will turn things around.

"The government is at the helm of a sinking ship, refusing to change course, and the opposition is content to stand by and let it happen," a sociology professor at Tulane University, David Smilde told Foreign Policy.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies