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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.

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robcabob1 April 01 2014 at 11:59 PM

in other words, deny regular people food, government Hoards food for themselves.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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 ....

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
lhoward914 lebibelg April 01 2014 at 11:37 AM

You should not have given up your guns.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
shalhoubalbert April 01 2014 at 11:01 AM

Some day the people will rise up against this corrupt government an then they will be free

Flag Reply +5 rate up
lhoward914 April 01 2014 at 11:35 AM

Hey President Maduro,

Show us your food ration card.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
lhoward914 April 01 2014 at 11:39 AM

This sure helps with their toilet paper problem. No Food=No Crap=No need for Toilet paper.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Mike April 01 2014 at 11:41 AM

Socialism at its finest...I'd imagine Sean Penn and Danny Glover are high fiving as we speak.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
Tom Mike April 01 2014 at 12:08 PM

Don't forget the rest of our "progressives"

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
welcome eric Tom April 01 2014 at 2:10 PM

If most progressives aren't socialists why do they go on the defensive when the term is mentioned?

Flag +1 rate up
Jan Tom April 01 2014 at 2:37 PM

This is for franklinjefferson: Social Security is not an entitlement and if Tom is working and paying into the system, he should be able to draw what he has paid for. The vast majority of people who receive Soc. Sec. worked and paid into the system so they could draw it when they retired. Entitlements are food stamps, welfare, SSI, Wic and all of those freebies that people get, even though they have never contributed to the system. Oh there are some--the disabled and the elderly who deserve these entitlements but I resent seeing those young, able bodied people, dripping in gold chains and tatoos, stand in line in the grocery store and pay with food stamps and then load those ill gotten gains into a new Lexus or Jag. Come on, you have seen it too. We have become a nanny state and sooner or later we are going to be like Greece, Italy, etc. who now realize that they can no longer furnish all the free things they have been passing out to the healthy folks that are too lazy to work. That is why there have been riots in those countries--people were no longer being supported by the government and they were angry that their cash cow had stopped producing.

Flag +1 rate up
JC April 01 2014 at 11:53 AM

This situation is squarely in the hands of the people of Venezuela. They should study what the Italians did to Mussolini near the end of World War II and act in a similar way. Those who want a free and prosperous country should begin by getting rid of their authoritarian leaders, and they should not limit their methods. Their authoritarian leaders certainly don't.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
me817 April 01 2014 at 11:56 AM

You'd think that Venezuela might have witnessed Cuba's robust economy and did a 180 degree turn. But, since the voters decided to elect socialists perhaps they like being on long lines to buy food. Maybe they don't have anything else to do. Who are we to judge ? It's clear that this economy has about a year more before it collapses completely. Then what ? Who knows.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
simoesphilip April 01 2014 at 11:58 AM

Everybody wants to vote for Santa Claus, and this is the result. "No soup for you!" Watch how long it is before those known to vote for the opposition aren't allowed to buy food. "Government Food Stores". Right.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
tiffanypiano1 April 01 2014 at 10:48 AM

Venezuela can thank Hugo Chavez for the mess they're in.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
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