In socialist Venezuela, Barbie for the masses

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In socialist Venezuela, Barbie for the masses
** COMMERCIAL IMAGE ** In this photograph taken by AP Images for Mattel, Barbie Collector celebrates the 30th anniversary of their Dolls of the World Collection with the debut of the Statue of Liberty Barbie Doll, part of the new Landmark Collection, Tuesday, June 15, 2010, on Ellis Island in New York. In addition to the new doll collection, the first ever exhibit of Barbie dolls will be on display at Ellis Island from June 16 through August 15, 2010, representing 40 nations from around the world. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Mattel)
ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 11: Clothes for Barbie Dolls exhibition during the 'I Love B' as a part of the Vogue Fashion Night Out of Rome at Galleria Vittoria on September 11, 2014 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
Shoppers look at the selection of Barbie dolls for sale at a store in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. Venezuelans are grabbing armfuls of the dolls in toy stores across Caracas, taking advantage of the government’s mandate that large chains sell the plastic figurines at fire-sale prices during the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: A Barbie doll created by Maggia (Unique Model, Couture at Versailles), is displayed during the exhibition 'Barbie retro chic' at the 'Musee de la poupee' on February 13, 2014, in Paris, France. The exhibition shows more 150 Barbie Dolls from February 11 until September 13, 2014. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
A selection of Barbie dolls fill a shelf at a store in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. Venezuelans are grabbing armfuls of the dolls in toy stores across Caracas, taking advantage of the government’s mandate that large chains sell the plastic figurines at fire-sale prices during the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
MUNICH, GERMANY - JANUARY 28: Barbie-dolls with the Barbie Collection 2014 are shown at the Press-Preview of the Nuremberg International Toy Fair 2014 on January 28, 2014 in Nuremberg, Germany. The Barbie Collection 2014 was presented by Designer Guido Maria Kretschmer. The Nuremberg International Toy Fair 2014 is the worlds biggest toy fair and is opendend to visitors from January 29th to February 3rd. (Photo by Joerg Koch/Getty Images)
This image provided by Sports Illustrated on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2014, shows the cover-wrap of the magazine's 50th anniversary annual swimsuit issue.
Barbie dolls from all different eras are lined up for the 50th anniversary of Barbie.
A display of Barbie dolls is shown at the Mattel exhibit at the New York Toy Fair.
Stephanie Torres, of Chicago, stocks up on Barbie dolls.
Barbie video girl edition
In this Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, photo, Barbie dolls, a Mattel product, are displayed in a Walmart store in Robinson Township, Pa.
Barbie and Ken dolls from Mattel are displayed at the American International Toy Fair.
A Barbie doll wearing a Dior dress is on display next to a Dior handbag as part of an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of Barbie in The Netherlands, at Tassenmuseum Hendrikje, the Museum of Bags and Purses, in Amsterdam, Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014. Fifty dolls are on display together with 1500 bags and purses, part of the museum's total collection of 4500 bags and purses. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
FILE - In this July 11, 2011 file photo, Barbie dolls sit on the shelf at Woodbury Mountain Toys in Montpelier, Vt. Toy maker Mattel Inc. said Monday, April 16, 2012, their first-quarter profit dropped 53 percent, pulled down by costs tied to an acquisition and lower sales for Barbie and Hot Wheels. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
Imitation Barbie dolls dressed in traditional Bolivian carnival costumes stand in a doll making workshop in El Alto, Bolivia, Friday Jan. 21, 2011. The dolls will be sold at the annual Alasita Fair, a three week fair of miniature items in La Paz beginning late January. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 17, 2005 file photo, Ashley Cebollero, of New York, looks around in front of a bank of Barbie Fashion Fever dolls in New York. Debuting in 1959, Mattel’s 11.5-inch blond fashion doll has long held the No. 1 doll title with an estimated $1.3 billion in annual sales. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, fIle)
Barbie dolls sit on shelves of the Mattel Outlet Store, Monday, Jan. 31, 2005, in El Segundo, Calif. Mattel Inc.'s fourth-quarter profit rose 33 percent on the strength of the world's largest toy maker's overall sales, favorable currency exchange rates and a one-time gain from a federal tax return settlement. Its shares rose more than 6 percent. Worldwide sales of Mattel's flagship Barbie doll brand were down 1 percent, while sales of the company's Other Girls brand rose 1 percent. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Shoppers look at the selection of Barbie dolls for sale at a store in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. Venezuelans are grabbing armfuls of the dolls in toy stores across Caracas, taking advantage of the government’s mandate that large chains sell the plastic figurines at fire-sale prices during the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 17: A view a Barbie doll at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 50th Anniversary Pink Carpet celebration on February 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/WireImage)
This picture taken on January 20, 2014 shows Barbie dolls in different clothes as they are displayed in the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje in Amsterdam, on January 20, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ANP / BAS CZERWINSKI ***netherlands out*** (Photo credit should read BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Barbie dolls, manufactured by Mattel Inc., the world's largest toymaker, sit on display at Hamleys Plc's flagship toy store on Regent Street in London, U.K., on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. The U.K. economy shrank more than economists forecast in the second quarter as record rainfall and an extra public holiday in the period sent output down the most in more than three years. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
** FILE ** A Barbie Doll and Tanner play set from Mattel is displayed on Aug. 14, 2007 at a Target store in Brooklyn, N.Y. Mattel Inc.'s reputation took another hit after the world's largest toy maker announced Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007, a third major recall of Chinese-made toys in little more than a month because of excessive amounts of lead paint. The latest Mattel recall, whose details were negotiated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, covers 675,000 Barbie accessories sold between October 2006 and August of this year. No Barbie dolls were included in the action. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Barbie dolls, wearing creations by Mexican designers, sit during preparations for an upcoming exhibit at the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City, Thursday, March 5, 2009. The exhibit, in celebration of Barbie's 50th birthday, opens March 10. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A museum worker paints details on a Barbie doll during preparations for an upcoming exhibit at the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City, Thursday, March 5, 2009. The exhibit, in celebration of Barbie's 50th birthday, opens March 10. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Workers arrange Barbie dolls at the display at Barbie's Shanghai flagship store Thursday March 5, 2009 in Shanghai, China. A half-century after Barbie's first appearance in a demure black-and-white striped swimsuit, the pink and sparkling Barbie Shanghai flagship store opens Saturday to a Chinese public that less than a decade ago couldn't even buy the iconic doll in local stores. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Barbie doll collector Roberta Ceccarelli poses by her dolls in her "Barbie museum" in Ostia, near Rome, Wednesday, March 4, 2009. Ceccarelli collects Barbie dolls since 1986 and has about 1000 dolls. The Barbie doll celebrates its 50th anniversary on March 9. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Barbie dolls are set up on a makeshift beach, part of a "Barbie museum" by collector Roberta Ceccarelli, in Ostia, near Rome, Wednesday, March 4, 2009. Ceccarelli collects Barbie dolls since 1986 and has about 1000 dolls. The Barbie doll celebrates its 50th anniversary on March 9. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
The 50th anniversary of Barbie is commemorated with a lineup of dolls, starting with the first Barbie in original black and white swim suit, in a display by Mattel at the Javits Center in New York where Toy Fair 2009 is set to take place, Friday, Feb. 13, 2009. Toy Fair 2009 runs from Feb. 15 through to Feb. 18. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Socialism has embraced Barbie, just in time for Christmas

Mothers, grandmothers and beaming little girls are grabbing armfuls of the dolls in toy stores across Caracas, taking advantage of the government's order that large chains sell the plastic figurines at fire-sale prices during the holiday shopping season.

No sooner had saleswoman Crystal Casanova begun mounting a display of gleaming pink boxes on a recent weekday than a horde of women descended. Soon, she and her co-workers were letting customers grab the Barbies straight out of the Mattel-stamped cardboard cartons.

Within minutes, the entire stock was gone, with the dolls selling for as little as 250 bolivars - $2.50 at the widely used black market conversion rate.

Venezuela's socialist government has long imposed price caps on essential products, from milk to laundry detergent, and threatened merchants who hoard goods or sell them at unfairly high margins with jail time.

Now President Nicolas Maduro is making the Barbie doll, often derided by leftists as a training tool for capitalist consumerism, a highlight of this year's "Operation Merry Christmas," which he presented as an effort to prevent speculators from ruining the holidays.

Maduro's mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, once denounced "the stupidity of Barbie" and called for Venezuela to develop its own iconic children's toys.

Feminists, too, criticize the doll for presenting an unhealthy image of the female body, though in Venezuela, a land of beauty queens and abundant plastic surgery, it's an image many women strive to meet.

The toy isn't the only product affected by the initiative. Across town from the Barbie bonanza, the government is selling big-ticket products directly to shoppers at a fraction of what they usually cost.

Hundreds of Venezuelans have been camping out for a shot at buying plasma TVs, computers and refrigerators at a government-run fair that began this month. It's the second year that the administration has sponsored this kind of Christmas special.

Business leaders say that mandatory discounts on products sometimes force retailers to sell at a loss, discouraging imports and feeding shortages, though retailers declined to comment on the case of the Barbies. Government inspectors allege the stores are speculating with unfairly high prices, taking advantage of people's need to buy Christmas presents.

For shoppers contending with chronic shortages, hour-long checkout lines and the world's highest inflation, the sporadic price cuts are a rare bright spot that even critics of Chavez's socialist ideology can enjoy.

Andrea Alberto, a 22-year-old student, managed to nab a stack of dolls for her stunned-looking 3-year-old, under whose arm she'd tucked an "I Can Be Cheerleader" Barbie, complete with sparkling pompoms.

Last year, she had to pay dearly to put a brand-name doll under the tree. The more elaborate Barbie models go for 3,500 bolivars - three week's pay for someone earning minimum wage.

"It's his fault we're in this mess, but I guess I have to admit I am benefiting from Chavismo right now," Alberto said, laughing with her friends.

Maria Gonzalez, who lives in one of Caracas' hillside slums, snagged two deeply discounted "Spa to Fab" Barbies, which go for $19.50 in the U.S. Her grandchildren love the dolls, she said, but she could never afford to buy them any.

"They're going to be so excited," she said, and then went back to see if she could find a third box.

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