Venezuela

Fingerprints for food: Venezuela rolls out new plan to keep shelves stocked

 
 
A shopper leaves a supermarket with groceries as others wait in line on March 2, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, and many basic food items such as flour, cooking oil and milk are often out of stock in stores. When local residents hear of the arrival of a new shipment, they queue up for hours.
A shopper leaves a supermarket with groceries as others wait in line on March 2, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, and many basic food items such as flour, cooking oil and milk are often out of stock in stores. When local residents hear of the arrival of a new shipment, they queue up for hours.
John Moore / Getty Images

jwyss@MiamiHerald.com

Call it fingerprints for food. In the latest effort to keep shelves stocked in Venezuela, the government on Tuesday will begin registering the biometric information of customers who use state-run grocery stores.

President Nicolás Maduro says the measure will prevent hoarding and help keep price-controlled food from being resold for a profit on the black market. Food Minister Félix Osorio said those who sign up for the program by registering their fingerprints will be eligible for discounts and prizes.

But critics warn that the scheme — which is not mandatory for the moment — will be one more way for the state to keep tabs on the population, or might be a precursor to rationing.

The initiative, called the Superior System for Secure Supplies, comes amid a raft of economic measures rolled out amid anti-government protests that have dragged on for almost two months leaving at least 39 dead on both sides of the political divide.

On Friday, the government enacted a law giving tenants of more than 20 years the right to purchase the home they’re living in. The government will set the “fair price” in these enforced sales.

Also last week, the government inaugurated a mechanism to buy and sell dollars called Sicad 2. While the administration is keeping the official exchange rate at 6.3 bolivares to the dollar, the new system, which in theory is free-floating, was selling bolivares at 49.80 to the dollar Monday.

Sicad 2 is only designed to cover about 8 percent of the nation’s demand for dollars, but the implied 690 percent devaluation is expected to exacerbate already record-high inflation and has administration opponents on the offensive.

“This is a government that attacks the people not only with weapons but with the worst tax: inflation,” Luis Florido, a national officer of the Voluntad Popular opposition party, said Monday. “The government is creating economic [chaos] for the people of Venezuela.”

Even so, economists had been calling for flexibility in the currency system, saying it will ease the country’s budget burden and might help tame the black-market dollar, which is trading at about 67 bolivares — down from about 80 just a few weeks ago.

Signs of Venezuela’s economic malaise abound. Inflation is running at 57 percent — the region’s highest — and shortages of basic food items have spawned hoarding and speculation.

On a recent weekend, the line to get into the Bicentenario supermarket in central Caracas wrapped around the sides of a massive atrium and then curled in a tight concentric circle as more than 800 people shuffled along waiting for a chance to buy mundane items, such as rice and toilet paper.

Deep inside the jostling sea, Eugenia Crespo, 33, thought the snarled line at the state-run store might be a good sign.

“Usually when there’s no line, it means they don’t have anything,” she said.

Crespo would end up waiting three hours to get inside (the lines at the registers also took more than an hour) but by the time it was her turn to scour the shelves what she was looking for was gone.

“There was no chicken, no beef, no butter,” she said after the ordeal. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Both Sicad 2 and the food program are aimed at alleviating those shortages — and the lines.

At the root of the problem is not enough foreign currency in a country that imports about 75 percent of all goods. Sicad 2, in theory, gives importers a chance to buy dollars.

But the auction is far from transparent. The government is not saying how many dollars are being issued in the market and on Monday the U.S. based Eurasia Group said there were signs that authorities were restricting dollar sales and keeping the bolivar artificially high.

“We continue to believe that the government will likely impose restrictions that limit its effectiveness,” Eurasia said in a statement. “The government remains internally divided over the direction of foreign exchange policy and is prone to ad-hoc policy measures, which suggests that the window for Sicad 2 to have an impact on scarcity, inflation and the parallel rate may be relatively small.”

The impact of the shopping cards also remains to be seen. Last year, in the state of Zulia, the governor tried to implement a rationing system at state-run stores but aborted the plan amid a backlash. This time the roll-out has been more muted. And Maduro says the program will deliver results.

“Once we get started,” he said, “we’re going to take food contraband to zero.”

Read more Venezuela stories from the Miami Herald

  • US bars some Venezuela officials from US travel

    Amid escalating tensions with socialist Venezuela, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced new travel restrictions against Venezuelan officials believed to have committed human rights abuses during a spring crackdown on anti-government protests.

  •  
CORRECTS DATE TO 2014 Former Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal arrives at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba,  Sunday July 27, 2014 after being released by authorities. Carvajal was detained in Aruba on U.S. drug charges, released by the Dutch Caribbean island Sunday and sent home, authorities said Sunday.

    Official: Venezuela tried to pressure Aruba

    Aruba's top prosecutor said Tuesday that Venezuela ratcheted up various types of pressure against the Dutch Caribbean island and the Netherlands in recent days to try to win the release of a powerful former general wanted on U.S. drug-trafficking charges.

  • Venezuela

    Aruba faced potentially ‘severe’ economic pressure over Venezuelan general

    Venezuela threatened to extend a flight boycott and sink Aruba’s tourism industry as it fought for the release of a former general who is wanted in the U.S. on drug charges, a State Department official said.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category