Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the occupation of a chain of electronic goods stores in a crackdown on what the socialist government views as price-gouging hobbling the country’s economy.
Various managers of the five-store, 500-employee Daka chain have been arrested, and the company will now be forced to sell products at fair prices, Maduro said late on Friday.
State media showed soldiers in one Daka shop checking the price tags on large flat-screen TVs. And hundreds of bargain-hunters flocked to Daka stores on Saturday morning to take advantage of the new, cheaper prices.
“We’re doing this for the good of the nation,” said Maduro, 50, who accuses wealthy businessmen and right-wing political opponents backed by the United States of waging an economic war against him.
“I’ve ordered the immediate occupation of this chain to offer its products to the people at fair prices, everything. Let nothing remain in stock . . . We’re going to comb the whole nation in the next few days. This robbery of the people has to stop.”
The measure, which comes after weeks of warnings from the government of a pre-Christmas push against private businesses to keep prices down, recalled the sweeping takeovers during the 14-year rule of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez.
Maduro, who took over from Chávez in April after the latter’s death from cancer, has stopped short of more outright nationalizations, in this case saying authorities would instead force Daka to sell at state-fixed prices.
“Inflation’s killing us. I’m not sure if this was the right way, but something had to be done. I think it’s right to make people sell things at fair prices,” said Carlos Rangel, 37, among about 500 people queuing outside a Daka store in Caracas.
Rangel had waited overnight, with various relatives, to be at the front of the queue and was hoping to find a cheap TV and air-conditioning unit.
Soldiers stood on guard outside the store before it opened.
Critics say Venezuela’s runaway inflation now 54 percent, the highest since Chávez came to power in 1999, is due to economic mismanagement and the failure of socialist policies rather than unscrupulous retailers.
Opponents also blame excessive government controls and persecution of the private sector for shortages of basic goods ranging from flour to toilet paper, and for price distortions and corruption caused by a black-market currency rate nearly 10 times higher the official price.
“This ridiculous show they’ve mounted with Daka is a not-very-subtle warning to us all,” said a Venezuelan businessman who imports electronic goods and is an opposition supporter.