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Why Venezuela has stopped selling Big Macs

Economic and political crises have brought food shortages to the South American country, and McDonald's is feeling the impact.

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    A McDonald's Big Mac sandwich at an American McDonald's restaurant in 2014. The Venezuelan counterparts of this global franchise have temporarily stopped selling the Big Mac, due to food shortages in the country.
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
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Venezuela’s McDonald's has stopped selling Big Macs due to food shortages within the country. The franchisee said that there are not enough supplies to make the iconic sandwich, which requires three pieces of bread.

The franchisee, Buenos Aires–based Arcos Dorados Holdings Inc., told Bloomberg that the situation was “temporary.” Food shortages in Venezuela, however, have been ongoing amid an escalating political and economic crisis.

For months, the country has been experiencing severely limited access to groceries and other staples, and inflation is expected to soar to 700 percent by the end of the year. Thousands of political and food-related protests have taken place nationwide, as well as looting.

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“Ordinary people have not been getting enough to eat for some time, but now the situation means we’re hearing of families where one kid doesn’t eat at least one day a week, or parents go without food to give what little they have to their children,” Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told The Christian Science Monitor in June. “We’re not talking about just the really poor or people living under bridges. We’re talking university professors, paramedics, professionals.”

While Venezuelans have faced shortages of staples in the past, a constellation of forces has aligned to create a large scale crisis.

Plummeting oil prices have taken their toll on the country, whose economy was largely based on this resource. And to maintain its social welfare network, the country borrowed heavily to offset revenue lost from oil.

Some observers say that the government’s decision to pay off that debt, instead of injecting money into domestic markets, imports, and food production, has catapulted the nation into the food shortage crisis, the Monitor reported last month. Opposition groups have been gaining ground in pushing for a referendum on the presidency of Hugo Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

Depravation of basic needs underlies the political maneuvering, as the Monitor reported in June:

But as the political machinations continue, upwards of 10 lootings occur every day across the country – from bursting through a bakery door to clear the shelves to ambushing food delivery trucks before they get to their destination, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence. And of the 641 protests that took place last month across the country, 27 percent were related to food and hunger. Protests about food alone went up by 320 percent compared to May 2015, according to the Venezuelan Observatory on Social Conflict.

And the Maduro administration has been hesitant to accept international aid for the humanitarian crisis.

And while the absence of the Big Mac is one small piece of an increasingly fraught picture, the impact of the crisis on international companies in Venezuela is revealing: Arcos Dorados is the world’s largest McDonald’s Corp. franchisee, with more than 2,000 McDonald’s restaurants throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

“McDonald’s Venezuela is working to resolve this temporary situation,” Daniel Schleiniger, a spokesman for Arcos Dorados, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “Together with our supplier, we are evaluating the best options that will allow us to continue serving high quality food to our customers.”

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