A customer walks past empty shelves at a supermarket in Caracas
Caracas - AFP
Prices keep rising in Venezuela, economic activity is sputtering and shops struggle to fill their shelves.
But don't ask the central bank how bad things really are: it hasn't published key data in months.
The last time the central bank and the national statistics institute published the annual inflation figure was in May, when the indicator rose to 61 percent, the highest in Latin America.
Officials have not given any explanations despite repeated requests from economists, politicians and journalists seeking economic data.
"This destroys the credibility of the central bank. There has never been this kind of a delay for as long as we have been measuring inflation," said economist Jose Guerra, a former economic research chief at the bank.
A similar delay took place late last year, when the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro waited one month to release November data, until after municipal elections.
"The government has not wanted to make June and July inflation figures public," Guerra said, citing data from central bank technicians.
- 'You can't hide information' -
The Venezuelan central bank has withheld figures for months this time -- even though it is part of the International Monetary Fund's General Data Dissemination System, which encourages members to publish sound statistical data.
"Little by little, statistics have been put aside for political purposes," said Francisco Ibarra, director of the consulting firm Econometrica.
But, he added, "you can't hide inflation because people see it on the street."
Ibarra said the lack of official data could give rise to parallel, private statistics much like what is taking place in Argentina, another economically-troubled South American nation.
"Sooner or later, the International Monetary Fund will box Venezuela's ears because it's one thing to want to be a renegade, and another to hide information," he said.
Another key indicator that disappeared four months ago is the index of shortages of basic goods even as Venezuelans continue to stand in long lines at stores bereft of everything from toilet paper to cooking oil and medicine.
The central bank last reported the scarcity index in March, when 19 basic goods were said to face "serious supply problems."
That month, corn oil shortages were at 100 percent while flour and milk were absent in nine out of 10 stores.
Hiding such figures "does not help the economy," Ibarra said, adding that employment and balance of payments data for the last quarter of 2013 were also delayed.
"It's an intentional policy, and it has no rational economic or institutional explanation. They don't want a debate in these areas," he said.
- Firms can't plan -
Last week, the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, Fedecamaras, complained about the lack of statistics.
"There's no way to make plans," Fedecamaras president Jorge Roig said.
The organization, which represents most private firms, has begun to compile its own data. Private consulting firms are doing the same.
The chamber says the country's gross domestic product fell by four percent in the first quarter.
The government has yet to give a GDP forecast for 2014, with the last projection coming eight months ago, when it predicted growth of four percent.