In Venezuela, A Pack of Condoms Now Costs More Than Your iPhone

In Venezuela, A Pack of Condoms Now Costs More Than Your iPhone

More than a decade of economic mismanagement and a collapse in global oil prices have forced Venezuelans to adapt to a new normal of black-market milk and professional line-sitters, but the latest consumer goods scarcity may be the last straw: Condoms are nearly impossible to find, and even harder to afford.

According to a jarring Bloomberg News report, contraception is the newest casualty of Venezuela's economic crisis, with online prices for a pack of 36 rubbers costing amorous Venezuelans as much as $755 a box. On the black-market auction website MercadoLibre, frequented by Venezuelans desperate for a $550 flatiron or $150 tubes of Victoria's Secret lotion, a 36-pack of Trojan ENZ lubricated condoms sells for 4,760 bolívars, or $20 a condom. Venezuela's minimum monthly wage: 4,889 bolívars. So much for that one-night stand.

But not getting laid is the least of their problems: The value of Venezuela's unit of currency, the bolívar, has been decimated by record inflation — 63.6% in November 2014, the highest in the Western Hemisphere — which has driven suppliers to begin selling their goods on the dollar-based black market. The worsening exchange rate of the bolívar against the dollar has also given foreign companies reason to pause in continuing to do business in Venezuela, which has left Venezuelan newspapers without printing paper and bathrooms without toilet paper. 

The global drop in oil prices isn't helping. The value of Venezuelan oil has dropped by nearly two-thirds since June 2014, bringing Venezuela to the brink of defaulting on its debt obligations. In response to the decline in oil-related revenue, President Nicolás Maduro has has further slashed imports rather than cut back on Venezuela's "Bolivarian Missions," the well-funded social programs instituted by the late President Hugo Chávez. This has left the vast majority of Venezuelans who lack access to American currency scrambling for everything from meat to medicine.

Source: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Source: Ariana Cubillos/AP

The condom shortage is more serious than a few canceled hookups. According to Avert, a U.K.-based HIV and AIDS charity, Venezuela has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in South America. Bloomberg News also reports that Venezuela had the third-fastest rate of HIV infections per capita in 2013. "The country is so messed up that now we have to wait in line even to have sex," Jonatan Montilla, a 31-year-old art director, told Bloomberg News. "This is a new low."

"Without condoms we can't do anything," Jhonatan Rodriguez, general director of nonprofit health group StopVIH, told Bloomberg News. "This shortage threatens all the prevention programs we have been working on across the country."

For the nearly 50,000 HIV-positive Venezuelans who are currently taking antiretrovirals, the lack of condoms compounds a crisis that began months ago, when the limited access to imports began to affect the availability of HIV medications. Unfettered access to antiretrovirals by Venezuela's HIV-positive population had previously been declared sacrosanct by the national government. While in power, Chávez touted Venezuela's socialized health care, which is described as both high-quality and zero-cost but is frequently neither, as one of his revolution's greatest feats, but frequent medicine shortages have driven HIV-positive Venezuelans to rely on international donations.

Venezuela also has the second-highest rate of teenage pregnancies on the continent, and no legal abortion. According to Carlos Cabrera, vice president of the local branch of London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation, the lack of availability of condoms and other contraceptives to the majority of Venezuelans will drive pregnant women to dangerous clandestine clinics. 

"An unwanted teenage pregnancy is a mark of government's failure: failure of its economic, public health and educational policy," Cabrera told Bloomberg News.

The shortage represents a clear danger to Venezuela's future. Forget the potential political costs of not allowing a young, pissed-off population to blow off some steam (if they don't do it between the sheets, they're gonna do it in the streets). When young women become pregnant and are removed from schools and the labor force, or citizens become infected with HIV the government is unable to treat, it becomes even harder for a country facing an economic collapse to prepare for the inevitable decline of a petroleum-based economy. Venezuela's condom crisis is a sign that Maduro's experiment in Bolivarian socialism needs to come to an end.

Venezuela needs condoms — and a government overhaul.