LATIN AMERICA

Maduro declares war against businesses engaged in price gouging

Venezuelan military sent in to take over electronic retail outlets President’s order sets off buying frenzy with looting at one store

Dozens of people loot the Daka store in Valencia, Carabobo state.
Dozens of people loot the Daka store in Valencia, Carabobo state.EFE

Declaring what he called an “economic war” against US interests and get-rich-quick Venezuelan capitalists, President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday announced that he will introduce laws that will set out the profit margins that businessmen can earn in their sales.

In an address to the nation Sunday night, Maduro criticized the current laws against speculators which only call for fines and temporary closures of businesses.

“No, those people need to be arrested, jailed and taken before a judge,” he said. “We have to take charge of the assets they stole from our people.”

The announcement came just two days after he had ordered the military to take over all five stores of Daka, a major electronics and appliance chain, confiscate all its products, and sell them “at fair prices” to the public after he accused the owners of price gouging.

“Nothing should be left in their warehouses,” the presidential ordered stated.

This announcement sparked frenzy at stores across the nation with customers pushing and shoving to purchase brand-named and off-brand televisions, computers and appliances with 60 percent and 90 percent off from original prices. At the Daka store in Valencia, Carabobo state, hundreds of people ransacked the establishment and ran off with boxes of goods without paying for them. Television stations broadcast footage that showed dozens of people running out of the outlet with flat-screen TVs and other boxes.

Daka is a national retail chain that was founded in 2004 by a prominent Venezuelan family of Arab origin who had close ties to Maduro’s late predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez. But it appears that their government connections no longer serve of any assistance.

At least five managers of Daka, JVG and Krash companies – two other electronic chains – have been detained by authorities and will be charged with jacking up prices after importing products with dollars at the government-controlled rates, authorities announced.

Five people were also arrested for looting at the Valencia store, the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.

After the order was issued Friday, other establishments in Caracas and other cities were also taken over by the military. “This is only the tip of the iceberg of what we are going to do to the bourgeois parasites,” said Maduro, who also accused Washington of trying to sabotage the Venezuelan economy.

The president blamed the owners of Daka and other retailers of creating “artificial inflation” by increasing prices. On Thursday, the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) reported that in the month of October there was a five-percent increase in consumer sales prices compared to the previous month. Venezuela’s annual inflation rate now stands at 54 percent.

But the crackdown on the retailers was just one of a series of measures that captured the attention of Venezuelans, who were also glued to their television sets over the weekend to watch their representative, María Gabriela Isler, win the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow as well as the release of The Miami Herald correspondent Jim Wyss after he was held for two days by the military for reporting in the country without government permission.

Maduro ordered internet providers to block access to various websites, including dolartoday.com and tucadivi.com, which publishes daily black-market parallel currency rates, as well as news stories which are critical of the current government. Conatel, the national telecommunications regulatory agency, announced that it has opened administrative inquires against various internet providers, including Movistar of Spain.

Price inspections were also expected to take place at hardware stores, toy outlets and clothing boutiques.

“We are going to hit all sectors,” the president said.

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