Quarantined Residents in Mexico Grapple with Nationwide Beer Shortage

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Mexicans sheltering in place during the COVID-19 crisis have endured crowded quarters and rising temperatures. Now they’re enduring another challenge: a nationwide beer drought.

Beer production in Mexico was halted more than a month ago as health officials declared brewing a “non-essential” activity.

Since then, the country’s stockpile has dwindled, fueling a robust black market in which speculators are demanding more than twice the pre-pandemic price.

Beer for sale early last month in Mexico City. Supplies have dwindled as the country in a national beer drought. Photograph: Jose Pazos/EPA

Beer for sale early last month in Mexico City. Supplies have dwindled as the country in a national beer drought. Photograph: Jose Pazos/EPA

“We’re not producing a single beer,” Karla Siquieiros, president of Cerverceros de México, told the newspaper el Universal.

But some beer-makers have continued their operations. The country is the largest beer exporter in the world, and Constellation Brands — which produces Modelo, Corona and Pacifico in Mexico for U.S. markets — is still brewing for export.

Oxxo, Mexico’s ubiquitous corner store chain, warned in late April that its beer supply would last just 10 days, prompting panic buying and long lines outside stores.

Mexicans have greeted the domestic beer shortage with more bemusement than anger. Hashtags like #LaÚltimaChela (the last beer) trended on Twitter, while users posted pictures of empty fridges.

But retailers say the loss of sales is seriously harming their livelihoods in an economy that is already tough.

“Mexicans like to drink beer,” said Cuauhtémoc Rivera, director the National Alliance of Small Merchants, Anpec, which represents thousands of mom-and-pop stores.

Most such businesses are run by families, and during hot weather, beer sales make up about 40% of sales, Rivera said.

“This is a big money-maker for small stores,” said Rivera.

Anpec had lobbied for brewing to be declared an essential activity, arguing that it would help people cope with coronavirus lockdown.

“States of anxiety, desperation and fears that could end in episodes of irascibility and intolerance” were inevitable during quarantine, the organization argued, adding: “The consumption of beer at home operates as relaxant, which helps with enduring a difficult trial.”

Many municipalities have banned the sale of alcohol for the duration of COVID-19 quarantines. Some analysts say that such measures can help reduce domestic violence — at a time when domestic abuse under lockdown is on rise around the world.

But others said such laws conform to a familiar pattern in which Mexican authorities feel the need to take action — any action — in times of crisis.

“Lots of authority figures love it,” said Xavier Tello, a healthcare consultant. “The authorities can show that they’re acting like authorities by imposing dry law… as if it solved anything.”

As temperatures climb, some beer drinkers continue to hunt for Mexico’s last few beers. But it can be a frustrating pursuit.

Last weekend, Johnny, an engineer in the border city of Reynosa, visited eight stores in three neighborhoods but came away empty-handed.

“There is absolutely nothing,” he said of the stores in Reynosa. “There’s liquor, but not everybody wants that. And it’s dwindling, too.”

He did find beer for sale on the black market, but the asking price was triple the normal.

In the end, Johnny crossed the border to buy a six-pack of Corona in Texas.

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