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Venezuela issues ID cards to curtail food hoarding

Food Shortages In Venezuela Cause Supermarket Lines In The Thousands

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 begins at more than 100 government-run supermarkets across the country Tuesday, and 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. Food Minister Felix Osorio says it 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.

So 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 the downtown store was out of.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
lebibelg April 01 2014 at 10:51 AM

Venezuelan are fighting so they are not sitting on their butt like one of you say here. We need the world to know what is going on in Venezuela , they are killing innocent people the castros are invading Venezuela.
Venezuela has a Colombian president who stole the elections , most of people in power were and are delinquents. We need international help ....

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2 replies
lhoward914 lebibelg April 01 2014 at 11:37 AM

You should not have given up your guns.

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Bob lebibelg April 01 2014 at 11:47 AM

And America has a kenyon president that lies to the voters, want's to use drones to kill the people and America is being invaded by illegal mexican's - not much difference is there? We in America need Gods help!
Just my opinion from what I see happening in "my" Country.

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gserlin April 01 2014 at 9:57 AM

The more power a government has, the less power the people have over their own lives.

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fernandezarthr April 01 2014 at 9:55 AM

....I agree, they well on their way to full control of food rationing,..........But for the Communist in Power and in Control,........this food rationing will have no effect!,.......this only applies to the people,....Not to them,........they will eat and Drink Like the "Gringo", Capitalist up North!!!!!,........Two Faced, Hypocrites!!!!,..........

Flag Reply +9 rate up
freddiebiker April 01 2014 at 12:01 PM

I see Socialism is working well. Remember that in the next election.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
Charles & Helena freddiebiker April 01 2014 at 12:30 PM

There won't be a next election, obuma will find a way to not have to move...he is real comfortable...

Flag Reply +1 rate up
krs April 01 2014 at 12:13 PM

The Soviet system-pay the producers LESS than what it costs to produce (as the did
with the farmers (Kulaks) in the Soviet Union in the 1924-1930 era. When they revolted
against the policy Stalin confiscated their land and had them sent to the Labor Camps.
Then he collectived the farms and farm output dropped 50% under the inefficent
management of the farms. This happened in Cuba when they nationilized the foriegn
and domestically owned farms and sugar cane fields. Wait Venezualans, if you think
it is tough now, it is going to get MUCH worse.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Precious April 01 2014 at 9:39 AM

What a shame, Venezuela has been battling torture, abuse of power and human rights violations but somehow the rationing of the food makes the news. This only a small part of the repression Venezuela is going through. Venezuela needs help and awareness from our neighbor countries. The Government is killing our citizens while the world is silent. SOS

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2 replies
gserlin Precious April 01 2014 at 9:55 AM

If you live in Venezuela, it is up to you to fix it. Supposedly the government there was validly elected.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Robin Precious April 01 2014 at 9:56 AM

I don't understand why more attention is not being given to the situation in Venezuela either. The world needs to wake up and face the reality that Venezuela and it's people need help..SOS

Flag Reply 0 rate up
gerald01612 April 01 2014 at 12:13 PM

isn't it wonderful what cuban style communism can do for you ? I hope these arrogant smug a-holes choke on it.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
jacqueline April 01 2014 at 9:25 AM

and those at the top, those who run the governemtns, don't deal with any of this

Flag Reply +11 rate up
usapaydirt April 01 2014 at 9:22 AM

Venezuela thanks to Chavez, is now relegated to a Government controlled oil funded feeding trough with no opportunity to in better one's self, and with total Government regulation and no free enterprise , there is no reason too as it would only go to central control ....

Flag Reply +6 rate up
j1969 April 01 2014 at 9:10 AM

its still raining in nor cal dont count us out yet

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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