Venezuela jails 34 store managers on charges of price gouging
By Alexandra Ulmer and Deisy Buitrago
CARACAS, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Nicolas
Maduro said on Thursday that 34 supermarket managers had been
jailed on charges of hiding food and gouging prices, in the
leftist government's latest crackdown on businesses as the
country struggles under a severe economic downturn.
"We had a group of supermarkets that hid the products from
people and started to charge them whatever they wanted. There
are 34 managers of big supermarkets behind bars for violating
the law," Maduro said, often angry during an hour-long televised
broadcast on state television.
"I say one thing and the supermarkets come along and say
another... What excuse do they have to not follow the rules?"
said Maduro, urging Venezuelans to speak up if they see unfair
prices to avoid "getting robbed."
Last month, Maduro vowed an economic renewal for the
oil-rich country, which is suffering from hyperinflation and
shortages of basic goods, ordering a 60-fold salary hike and
devaluing the currency by 96 percent.
His cash-strapped government said it would cover salaries
for the first three months so that businesses would not increase
prices despite the opposition-led congress estimating annual
inflation at 200,000 percent.
Local media have reported that many of the arrested managers
worked at Central Madeirense, a chain founded some 70 years ago
by Portuguese immigrants. The company and Venezuela's
Information Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Some shop owners, doubtful that the government would ever
cover the new wages, tried to balance the books by hiking prices
and firing employees, adding to a mass exodus that has already
seen over 2 million people flee the country of 30 million.
Economists say Maduro's reforms do not tackle Venezuela's
root problems, namely currency controls and excessive money
creation, and could in fact further destabilize its economy.
But Maduro struck an upbeat tone as he reviewed the
measures, saying wage increases had been smooth and that
authorities were no longer printing money unsustainably.
Maduro also said Venezuela would in October start using the
petro, a cryptocurrency it launched this year, in international
trade. A recent Reuters special report, however, showed that the
petro is not a functional financial instrument, suggesting
Caracas will struggle to get it accepted abroad.
A new system to pay for Venezuela’s gas will be extended
nationwide on Monday, Maduro said. Venezuelans will be able to
use a controversial state-issued "fatherland card" to fill their
tanks, Maduro added, promising further details next week.
Maduro also blasted banks, giving them 48 hours to "free"
the cash they were hoarding. Venezuela has struggled to print
enough physical money, creating chronic cash shortages that
Maduro has blamed on businesses and "mafias" operating in
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by
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