Store Seizures, Arrests Fail to Curb Venezuela Shortages

Públicos o privados, los supermercados y farmacias en Venezuela presentan, en estos días, larguísimas colas (Wikimedia)
Huge lines are commonplace outside public and private supermarkets and pharmacies in Venezuela. (TN)

EspañolOn Tuesday, February 3, the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro threatened further interventions into private property: this time with the “temporary occupation” of supermarket chain Día a Día.

The news was revealed by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, who headed up a judicial raid on a Caracas warehouse belonging to the chain early on Tuesday morning.

The Bolviarian National Guard are now to take control of every production unit, storage facility, and stores belonging to the supermarket group.

Detrás de las largas filas en los supermercados y farmacias, lo que hay es una aguda escasez (Wikimedia)
Shoppers often wait in line for hours only to find little is left on the shelves. (Wikimedia)

Cabello alleged that Día a Día owners had failed to comply with a new labor protection law, saying that from now on the labor rights of their employees “will be guaranteed by the national government.”

According to the national assembly chief, the measure follows complaints from the people about the lines outside Día a Día stores. Cabello also claimed to have received allegations of hoarding by the management, prompting investigations into the 35 stores owned by the chain.

On Monday night, prominent Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda published on his Twitter account that the merchandise in the stores was being taken in trucks belonging to state rationing firm PDVAL to resupply government-run Bicentenario outlets.
“Día a Día supermarket had enough merchandise in its La Yaguara depot to last for four days. PDVAL trucks are taking all the [boiled corn flour] Harina P.A.N.”
“They’ve quickly taken 170 pallets from Día a Día to resupply the Bicentenario where they hid the lines in the basement.”

Night of the Long Lines

Cabello also announced that police had arrested José Vicente Aguerrevere, one of the owners of the company.

Authorities arrested José Vicente Aguerrevere, owner of the Día a Día supermarket chain.
Authorities arrested José Vicente Aguerrevere, owner of the Día a Día supermarket chain. (Redsoc)
After Aguerrevere created Día a Día in 2005, it grew to have 36 establishments dotted across 16 cities and seven states nationwide. A graduate in mechanical engineering, he obtained his MBA summa cum laude from Harvard University in 2002.
In 2013, he was recognized as Businessman of the Year by the Fundación Venezuela sin Límites for having expanded his stores to far-flung population centers neglected by other chains.

On Sunday, February 1, the Venezuelan government also announced the arrest of the directors of Farmatodo — the largest pharmacy chain in the country — for allegedly “conspiring to create shortages in products.” A few hours later, five were freed; two of the executives, including Farmatodo president, Pedro Angarita, remained in custody on Tuesday.

On Monday evening, Maduro announced that his government will maintain its pressure on businesses, blaming business leaders for supposedly plotting against him to manufacture shortages. Industry figures in turn have argued that shortages are the product of failed government policies, price controls, and problems with distribution.

“Economic Terror”

On Friday, January 30, four executives and one shareholder of meat-product company Corporación Cárnica were arrested, charged with the hoarding of and price speculation with products seized in a store in Punto Fijo, Falcón State. The accusations leveled against them include speculation, fraudulent tampering, selling expired products, hoarding, and conspiracy.

According to information from the Public Ministry, officials from the National Superintendency of Fair Prices were carrying out an investigation into a company warehouse when they came across a huge quantity of stored meat products, as well as various medical supplies. Nicolás Maduro told press on Tuesday that the company will be folded into the network of state supermarkets.

In a press release published Tuesday by the Caracas chamber of commerce, local business leaders condemned the measures taken by the government, labeling them “economic terror.” The chamber further described the arrests and store seizures as “arbitrary,” and argued that they would only serve to deepen the national crisis.

“Measures like those taken recently against Farmatodo and Día a Día prove that we all need the rule of law, justice, and respect. Without these guarantees economic improvement is impossible,” the document stated.

The industrial and commercial figures called on the government to restore confidence by respecting property rights, eliminating “counterproductive” price controls, adjusting prices, allowing a free market, and applying the “discipline and sense needed to take the road of consensus.”

Jorge Roig, president of the national federation of chambers of commerce, Fedecámaras, told Unión Radio that the government’s “temporary occupations” of stores had effectively resulted in the closure of the companies.

Roig argued that the only way to rescue the Venezuelan economy was to boost confidence among consumers and businessmen. “The president should end the expropriations, because all they do is scare investors away even more. If there’s no confidence, any system you implant is going to struggle to function,” he added.

The Fedecámaras director claimed that, far from stores being responsible for shortages, the government is in full control of the Venezuelan economy through price controls and ongoing interventions in the chain of production.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Despite the ongoing efforts of the Maduro government to prosecute what it calls an “economic war,” the lines continue even outside supermarkets belonging to the state chain.

Social-media users have expressed their anger at the government’s intervention into private companies and criticized the poor service and state-run stores. On Monday, it emerged that a large number of people waiting in line outside Bicentenario stores were being redirected to the basement so they wouldn’t be seen.

One notable instance was in the Bicentenario outlet in Plaza Venezuela, Caracas, whose lines were remarked upon two weeks ago by visiting former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana.

“And no manager goes to jail. Huge line with protests among shoppers outside Palo Verde Bicentenario store.”

“The government justified its actions against Farmatodo by the lines, but there are lines in its chain of supermarkets. Today they hid them in the basement.”

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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