CARACAS – The Venezuelan government closed 70 stores for 24 hours, accusing them of increasing prices after last week’s devaluation of the bolivar.
Authorities “inspected 96 stores, of which 70 were sanctioned with closure for marking up prices and speculation,” the official ABN news agency said Monday.
Branches of the Franco-Colombian supermarket chain Exito and the locally owned Cada outfit figure among the establishments closed, ABN said.
Other offending establishments engage in selling automotive spare parts and electrical appliances.
“Retailers have in their inventories articles acquired at (the old official exchange rate of) 2.15 bolivars in the dollar and even more,” a public official told ABN.
Monday marked the beginning of a dual-exchange-rate regime in Venezuela.
Under the new rules, importers of essential items such as food, medicine and heavy machinery can buy dollars at a rate of 2.60 bolivars to the greenback. The school supply and science and technology sectors, as well as public sector imports and remittances, also will be favored by that rate, representing a 17 percent devaluation.
But a higher rate of 4.30 bolivars to the dollar applies to most of the economy, including the automobile, chemicals, rubber and plastics, appliances, textile, electronics, tobacco, beverages and telecommunications sectors.
Hundreds of government inspectors, with support from the National Guard, were deployed since the devaluation to ensure that retailers did not raise prices.
Leftist President Hugo Chavez called on his supporters to join the effort to police retailers.
“Some of the bourgeois, the oligarchs ... are saying that because of the measures announced Friday, they have to raise prices. There’s no way we’re going to accept that!” Chavez said Sunday during his weekly television program.
“The first thing I’m doing is calling on them not to do it, and on the people not to let themselves be robbed. There’s no reason to increase any prices,” the president said.
The fight against speculation requires an “offensive plan and not a defensive one,” he said, adding that everything in retailers’ current inventories “was imported at the old price of the dollar.”
“When necessary” and after “a very conscientious study,” a decision will be taken about possible increases of products and services under additional state control of prices and fees, Chavez said. EFE