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…. go here for more