Venezuela could stop making beer by August, as local breweries run out of ingredients needed to produce the country’s most popular alcoholic drink. A brewery shutdown would reduce the country's beer supply by a terrifying 80 percent, according to industry leaders.
Local breweries say they are down to their final batches of barley, malt and other imported products needed to make beer, thanks to Venezuela’s strict currency controls that have made it almost impossible to purchase supplies. The industry, which is calling the situation an "unprecedented crisis," is already some $200 million in arrears to suppliers around the world.
“Beer shortages will essentially force our sector to go broke; beer accounts for 70 percent of our sales,” Fray Roa, a spokesman for Venezuela’s National Association of Liquor Store Owners, said in a press conference.
Strict currency controls force Venezuelan companies to buy U.S. dollars from the government when they want to import goods or do business abroad. Falling oil prices have made U.S. dollars extremely scarce and the government has failed to supply companies with the right amount of dollars needed to import dozens of basic goods. Toilet paper, shampoo, chicken and beef, have been hard to find in Venezuelan supermarkets for months.
Now Venezuelans could have to start queuing for beer, too.
Beer companies could try to import more supplies by purchasing U.S. dollars in the black market, but that would come with a huge financial strain. Currently, U.S. dollars sell for 670 bolivares in the black market, three times as much as what the government sells dollars for at its most expensive exchange rate. Government-run companies and some lucky importers get to buy U.S. dollars for 6 bolivares, but most businesses don't get that rate. Many companies don’t get any dollars at all.
Liquors have become expensive in Venezuela too, due to the high cost of imports and overall inflation. So if the government doesn’t start selling dollars to breweries at an affordable rate, it could have a very sobering effect on the country as a whole.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.