CARACAS, Venezuela – Americans’ recent woes with eggs, and inflation generally, have affected close friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike — and they are something I, as a Venezuelan, am all too familiar with.
Inflation in socialist Venezuela has been a constant for decades, and uncertainty regarding what basic needs we can access has persisted under dictator Nicolás Maduro. Like many such needs, eggs are a luxury here today. A few years ago, however, even finding eggs in stores became an odyssey after Maduro criminalized profiting from producing them.
I want to share these recollections of those times with the hope that they never come to pass again anywhere else.
Like toiletries, food, groceries, medicine, and many other things, eggs were quite hard to find during the worst years of the collapse of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism, which began over a decade ago. This tale began in 2015, when Barack Obama was still the president of the United States, Venezuela’s central bank had stopped publishing inflation rates, and, while inflation was bad, it was still nowhere close to 2018’s over 1 million percent rate.
Venezuelan life was already mired with blackouts, shortages, fingerprint scanners and ID card checks that determined our weekly rations of “regulated” items. At the time, a rare cancer diagnosis had thrown the lives of my mother, brother, and yours truly upside down.
Eggs were already hard to come by, but if you were lucky you could find them here and there — their price, though, was something that rapidly spiked, just like everything else.
To make matters worse, the Maduro regime — in an ill-fated crusade to control inflation by imposing “fair price” controls, arresting store owners, and other socialist measures — decreed one November 2015 afternoon that a dozen eggs should be sold at 420 Bolivars (roughly $0.50 at the time), about 65 percent less than the average 1,200 Bolivars ($1.50 at the time) that they were going for.
The Maduro regime determined the price using skewed mathematical formulas and production costs that were not even remotely close to the reality of Venezuela at the time. For example, it did not factor the upkeep costs of the chickens, who need food, vaccinations, medicine, and other production-related expenses. It didn’t even factor in reasonable profit margins, especially with inflation as wild as it already was down here.
From the get-go, it meant that people had to sell eggs at a loss, and no one in their right mind would do that.
The announcement was made by Jorge Arreaza, who at the time was Maduro’s vice president and who has occupied several high-ranking positions in the Bolivarian Revolution — in addition to being the late Hugo Chávez’s son-in-law.
Arreaza, during the “fair price” egg announcement, warned that a “Fair Price Command” — an enforcement arm created separate from the police — would punish those who failed to “respect” the set price. Arreaza announced that the command had already arrested 60 “speculators” as a warning.
You may be asking why they did that, and the answer is simple. They’re a socialist regime, and they have the power to do it (and much worse) at a whim.
So if you were an egg producer, you were now at the same crossroads as every other producer of goods deemed “regulated”: do you sell at a loss, or do you sell at a more realistic price, but taking the high risk of being imprisoned for “capitalist speculation”? Many farmers simply ended their egg business, effectively making eggs disappear from stores.
The massive disruption affecting most markets that sell food resulted in the creation of a thriving, but dangerous, black market. Sometimes, yes, you could find eggs at the “fair price” in a store here or there, but that most certainly meant someone was being forced to sell them at a loss. And if you wanted them, you would have to stand in line, potentially for hours, and hope that you don’t get locked out of the ration system it wasn’t your allowed day based on the last number of your ID card.
Every now and then, Communal Councils and other groups ideologically aligned with the Maduro regime would also sell eggs and other items through special “operatives,” but that too meant that someone was certainly being forced to sell them at a loss.
In many cases, the simplest, most painless way to get eggs was through a black-market dealer or smuggler (known as “bachaquero”), but that meant paying whatever price they asked for.
Naturally, freezing the price of a dozen eggs at 420 Bolivars did nothing to stop inflation, and the discrepancy between the official “fair price” of eggs and the black market prices was so dramatically high that the cardboard packaging eggs came in became more expensive than the eggs themselves.
On more than one occasion, my family had to keep the cardboard packaging and bring it to markets to “refill” them with eggs, as if they were a water bottle.
In 2016, a street bachaquera near my home had eggs almost all the time, at a price much higher than most. She seemed to have the “blessing” of the local police, who used to frequent her post, which explains how she was able to simply sell eggs and other hard-to-find products with no one batting an eye.
Ultimately, the Maduro regime gave up on trying to regulate eggs and other items and availability stabilized over the course of a few years – perhaps because of the failure of the plan being so catastrophic that it affected regime loyalists’ comfort or maybe as a result of more pressing matters seizing its attention. The year 2018 brought with it the need for sham elections, Juan Guaidó’s ill-fated legitimate interim government, and pressure from the Trump administration (until 2020) – problems that, from Maduro’s perspective, are more important than regular people being able to afford eggs.
Nowadays, finding eggs is no longer an odyssey — affording them, though, is a headache and a half for many.
My nearest supermarket is selling a dozen eggs for $2.60 and a 30-pack for $5.58. This might seem “cheap” for some – certainly compared to the upwards of $7.00 a dozens seen in some parts of the United States – but you have to consider that the current minimum wage in Venezuela is 130 Bolivars or $5.17. That means the monthly minimum wage gets you about one egg per day — and, because of inflation, there is a high chance that by the time you read this, the monthly minimum wage might not even be enough for one egg per day.
For reasons that elude me, my nearest supermarket still displays the price of the 30-pack of eggs in the now-extinct “Sovereign Bolivar,” which was replaced by the “Digital” Bolivar in 2021.
As a fun exercise, if you want to know how much 30 eggs would be in the original, pre-revolution Venezuelan Bolivar, before the Revolution had to axe 14 zeroes off the value, you should multiply 125.55 by 100,000,000,000,000. I can’t give you the answer, I can’t count that high.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.