Farmers and manufacturers who produce milk, pasta, oil, rice, sugar and flour have been told to supply between 30 per cent and 100 per cent of their products to the state stores. Shortages, rationing and queues outside supermarkets have become a way of life for Venezuelans, as their isolated country battles against rigid currency controls and a shortage of US dollars – making it difficult for Venezuelans to find imported goods.
Pablo Baraybar, president of the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber, said that the order was illogical, and damaging to Venezuelan consumers.
“Taking products from the supermarkets and shops to hand them over to the state network doesn’t help in any way,” he said. “And problems like speculating will only get worse, because the foods will be concentrated precisely in the areas where the resellers go.
He pointed to statistics showing that two thirds of hoarders – or “bachaqueros”, giant ants, as they are nicknamed in Venezuela – buy their goods from the three state-owned chains, to resell at a profit.
“Consumers will be forced to spend more time in queues, given that the goods will be available in fewer stores.”
The state owns 7,245 stores, compared to more than 113,000 in private hands. Mr Baraybar said that many of the private shops were in densely-populated areas, meaning that people will now be forced to make longer journeys to the state stores.
The Chamber has asked the government for a meeting to discuss the plan, which they say they were not informed of.
“This does absolutely nothing to help with the shortages,” he said, adding that the solution was for the government to increase national production.
In March, Venezuelans were so worried about food shortages and dimininshing stocks of basic goods, fingerprint scanners were installed in supermarkets in an attempt to crack down on hoarding.
Venezuela’s official rate of inflation hit 64 per cent last year – the highest in the world. The government hides the scale of shortages, but angry consumers regularly post photos of empty shelves on social media.