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Scarcity crisis follows Venezuela all the way to the grave

A man rides a bike near tear gas during clashes between the National Police and anti-government protesters in Caracas on June 12, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ LEO RAMIREZ

CARACAS: Venezuelans are now afflicted by shortages even in death. Coffin production has dropped between 20 and 30 percent this year for lack of materials, industry officials say, forcing funeral and burial delays and inflating coffin prices.

In especially short supply is the metal leaf used in coffin-building, said Pedro Navarro, former president of Venezuela’s funeral parlor association, who blamed lagging production on the state-run foundry Sidor.

“Some factories are paralyzed. Others are buying thicker leaf,” Navarro said.

The country of 30 million has about 50 coffin factories. The president of one of Caracas’ biggest coffin companies, Ataudes Venezuela, said glue, varnish, paint and even fabric for the interiors are scarce.

“I figure that within two or three months, if things continue on this path, it’s going to get so bad that there won’t be coffins to bury people,” said the executive, Juan Carlos Fernandez, adding that he expected to be forced to effectively halve production next month.

Demand for coffins has grown in recent years, as Venezuela has one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Its people have been coping with shortages since 2006, long before pro-socialist President Hugo Chavez’s death last year from cancer.

The situation has grown especially acute in recent months as the cash-strapped government has made less hard currency available for imports. Venezuela’s central bank has not published a scarcity index since March, when it stood at 26.9 percent.

Empty shelves and long lines have become a fixture of a daily hunt for staples including milk, cooking oil and flour. Pharmaceuticals and medical supplies are also scarce. It has all contributed to a rash of anti-government street protests that began in February by an emboldened opposition.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2014, on page 8.

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