Christmas toys may be in short supply in Venezuela

CARACAS Wed Jul 3, 2013 4:02pm EDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - Whether they've been naughty or nice, Venezuelan children might be stuck without Christmas presents this year.

A shortage of hard currency in recent months has left the OPEC nation struggling to ensure supplies of wheat flour, toilet paper, and even wine for church services.

Toy importers have received only one month's worth of dollars from the country's currency control system so far this year. If the situation continues, they could fail to meet year-end demand, a toy industry group warned on Wednesday.

"We're at our limit. If the government doesn't solve this problem, there are not going to be toys during Christmas," said Juan Francisco Gonzalez of the industry group.

Venezuela's decade-long currency control, created by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has created a bottleneck for importers in the oil-dependent nation.

A representative at the currency control agency said no one was available to comment.

Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro blame the product shortages on hoarding by unscrupulous merchants and biased media coverage that leads to panic buying.

Importers must start the cumbersome task of buying Christmas toys by mid-year. The process involves placing orders with Chinese manufacturers, getting the toys shipped and moving them through the country's notoriously slow customs procedures, Gonzalez said.

Supplies are already running low and distributors say they are struggling to offer variety, he said.

"We understand that toys are not essential goods like food and medicine. But can you imagine Christmas without toys?" said Yelitza Moreno, a toy store owner in Caracas. "That wouldn't even happen in a horror movie."

(Reporting Diego Ore; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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