Mireya Bustamante spent most of the day trying in vain to find flour to bake a birthday cake for her 4-year-old son.
Like most Venezuelans, the single, 33-year-old officer worker has periodically struggled with such food shortages for years, and, like many in the country, thinks they're getting worse. She blames price and currency controls imposed by the government, though authorities contend unscrupulous business owners are at fault.
"An odyssey that never seems to end" was how Bustamante described the everyday challenge of finding basic foodstuffs. "What good are the controls if it becomes so difficult to find basic products?" asked the mother of three. "It's the government's fault, not the owners of neighborhood grocery stores."
Venezuelans have long had to shop around to find scarce foods, and lately consumers have had particular trouble finding staples like chicken, cooking oil, sugar and coffee, as well as toilet paper and some medicines. The shortages are a potential political vulnerability for the government while President Hugo Chavez lies bedridden in Cuba, unheard from more than a month after his fourth cancer operation.