Venezuela begins extreme rationing

VENEZUELA ISSUES ID CARDS TO CURTAIL FOOD HOARDING
By HANNAH DREIER
— Apr. 1, 2014 3:09 PM EDT

 

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Battling food shortages, the government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet toward rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it.

President Nicolas Maduro’s administration says the cards to track families’ purchases will foil people who stock up on groceries at subsidized prices and then illegally resell them for several times the amount. Critics say it’s another sign the oil-rich Venezuelan economy is headed toward Cuba-style dysfunction.

Registration began Tuesday at more than 100 government-run supermarkets across the country. Working-class shoppers who sometimes endure hours-long lines at government-run stores to buy groceries at steeply reduced prices are welcoming the plan.

“The rich people have things all hoarded away, and they pull the strings,” said Juan Rodriguez, who waited two hours to enter the government-run Abastos Bicentenario supermarket near downtown Caracas on Monday, and then waited another three hours to check out.

Rigid currency controls and a shortage of U.S. dollars make it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to find imported basic products like milk, flour, toilet paper and cooking oil. Price controls don’t help either, with producers complaining that some goods are priced too low to make a profit and justify production.

As of January, more than a quarter of basic staples were out of stock in Venezuelan stores, according to the central bank’s scarcity index. The shortages are among the problems cited by Maduro’s opponents who have been staging protests since mid-February.

Checkout workers at Abastos Bicentenario were taking down customers’ cellphone numbers Monday, to ensure they couldn’t return for eight days. Shoppers said employees also banned purchases by minors, to stop parents from using their children to engage in hoarding, which the government calls “nervous buying.”

Rodriguez supports both measures.

“People who go shopping every day hurt us all,” he said, drawing approving nods from the friends he made over the course of his afternoon slowly snaking through the aisles with his oversized cart.

Reflecting Maduro’s increasingly militarized discourse against opponents he accuses of waging “economic war,” the government is calling the new program the “system of secure supply.”

Patrons will register with their fingerprints, and the new ID card will be linked to a computer system that monitors purchases. On Tuesday, Food Minister Felix Osorio said the process was off to a smooth start. He says the system will sound an alarm when it detects suspicious purchasing patterns, barring people from buying the same goods every day. But he also says the cards will be voluntary, with incentives like discounts and entry into raffles for homes and cars.

Expressionless men with rifles patrolled the warehouse-size supermarket Monday as shoppers hurried by, focusing on grabbing meat and pantry items before they were gone. Long shelves that should have been heaped with rice and coffee instead displayed six brands of ketchup. There was plenty of frozen beef selling for 22.64 bolivars a kilogram — $3.59 at the official exchange rate, or 32 cents at the black market rate increasingly used in pricing goods.

A local consumer watchdog, the National User and Consumer Alliance, invokes the specter of Cuba’s struggling economy and calls the ID program rationing by another name. It predicts all Venezuelans without cards will soon be barred from shopping at state supermarkets.

After five decades of rationing basic goods for Cubans, President Raul Castro’s communist government is phasing out subsidized foodstuffs as it opens the island’s economy to private enterprise. Cubans most dependent on the rationed goods say that in recent years their monthly quotas provided only enough food for a couple of weeks.

Until now, Venezuela’s restrictions on purchases have been toughest in its cities on the border with Colombia. Venezuelans can make a killing by buying goods at below-market prices and smuggling them into Colombia for sale at much higher prices.

Defenders of Venezuela’s socialist government say price controls imposed by the late President Hugo Chavez help poor people lead more dignified lives, and the United Nations has recognized Venezuela’s success in eradicating hunger.

Complaints aren’t heard in the long lines at government supermarkets. One young mother shielded her eyes against the afternoon sun as she approached a cashier with sugar, flour and Frosted Flakes cereal. She arrived at 10 a.m., but didn’t blame the government or its opponents for the long wait.

“I don’t know if it’s worth it, but when my children are crying what else can you do,” said the woman, who declined to provide her name as an armed National Guardsmen watched her at the checkout line.

She planned another five-hour run to another supermarket Tuesday to get everything out of stock at the downtown store.

___

Hannah Dreier on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahdreier

Venezuela arrests three generals for alleged coup plot

"I sleep like an infant at night"

“I sleep like an infant at night”

Once again the dangerous antics of Saint Manure-o Hacia la Izquierda. Like all dictators, he sees plots within plots all around him. He distrusts the people and his own.
 
Venezuela arrests three generals for alleged coup plot

By Sofia Miselem (AFP) – 2 hours ago 

Caracas — Three Venezuelan air force generals accused of plotting a coup against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro were arrested Tuesday, amid a widening crackdown on the opposition.

The unidentified generals were in contact with opposition politicians and “were trying to get the Air Force to rise up against the legitimately elected government,” Maduro told a meeting of South American foreign ministers.

“This group that was captured has direct links with sectors of the opposition and they were saying that this week was the decisive week,” Maduro said.

The stunning disclosure — the first known significant threat from within Maduro’s government — comes amid a growing crackdown on the president’s opponents after more than six weeks of street protests that have left at least 34 dead.

– Betrayed by loyalists –

The generals have been summoned before a court martial, Maduro said, adding that the plot was uncovered because other officers come forward to say they were being recruited.

Asked for details about the generals, a senior source told AFP that the information is “being handled only through Maduro’s office.”

It is the first time in 15 years of socialist government that generals have been arrested for alleged coup plotting, said military expert Fernando Falcon, a retired lieutenant colonel.

Massive protests in April 2002 resulted in Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, being briefly ousted — before he was restored to power for another decade.

Maduro and his government have been the target of near-daily protests fueled by public anger over soaring crime, hyperinflation and shortages of such basic goods as toilet paper.

Demonstrators are also angry at oil-rich Venezuela’s close financial and political ties to Cuba, the only Communist one-party state in the Americas.

Maduro earlier had said he fended off a coup bid aided or supported by the United States and other “fascists.”

Protests have mainly taken place in middle-class opposition strongholds. Maduro still enjoys support among Venezuela’s larger, poor population, allowing him to weather the weeks-long protests.

– Machado defies Maduro –

On Monday, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello announced that a prominent opposition deputy, Maria Corina Machado, had lost her seat and parliamentary immunity, and could be arrested at any time.

At a news conference in Lima, Peru, a defiant Machado said she would return to Caracas on Wednesday, adding she feared she would be arrested on her arrival.

She said she was returning “because I am a Venezuelan deputy and I will enter Venezuela as such to continue fighting in the streets without rest until we achieve democracy and freedom.”

Machado angered the government by going before the Organization of American States last week as a guest of Panama to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

Panama’s representative to the OAS, Arturo Vallarino, said the move to take away Machado’s seat was “proof of the arbitrary acts being committed in Venezuela.”

Last week, two opposition mayors were arrested, and another prominent opposition leader has been in jailed for a month, accused of inciting violence.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gSirjRFXHLSoOSkswXUh6h7INUrA?docId=7b182785-7233-417d-a3c4-0ce535daa7c1&hl=en