Venezuela arrests 100 'bourgeois' shop owners in price-gouging battle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 9:51pm

Venezuela's socialist government has arrested more than 100 "bourgeois" businessmen in a crackdown on alleged price-gouging at hundreds of shops and firms since the weekend, President Nicolas Maduro said.

"They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!" Maduro thundered in the latest of his lengthy daily speeches yesterday. "We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment."

The successor to the late Hugo Chavez also said his government was preparing a law to limit Venezuelan businesses' profits to between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.

Officials say unscrupulous companies have been hiking prices of electronics and other goods more than 1,000 per cent. Critics say failed socialist economic policies and restricted access to foreign currency are behind Venezuela's runaway inflation.

"Goodyear has to lower its prices even more, 15 per cent is not enough. The inspectors have to go there straight away," Maduro said in his address, sending officials to check local operations of the US-based tyre maker.

Since the weekend, soldiers and inspectors have gone into 1,400 shops, taken over operations at an electronics firm and a battery-making company, and rounded up a handful of looters.

The move - Maduro's boldest since taking office in April - is reminiscent of the dramatic governing style of Chavez, who nationalised swathes of the oil- producing nation's economy during his 14-year socialist rule.

Like Chavez, Maduro says he is defending the poor.

The inspections have shaken Venezuela three weeks before local elections that his opponents are casting as a referendum on the 50-year-old former bus driver. Maduro has made preserving Chavez's legacy the mainstay of his government and has been matching his former mentor's anti-capitalist rhetoric.

"It's time to deepen the offensive, go to the bone in this economic war," he said.

Only a few of the hundreds of shops targeted with surprise inspections had been found to be offering "fair prices", officials say. Some businesses are voluntarily lowering prices - or staying closed - in case the inspectors arrive.

"We've reduced everything by 10 to 15 per cent, but it's not fair. I can't make a profit now," said the owner of one small electronics store, who asked not to be identified.

"I agree they should go for the big fish, the real speculators, but they risk hurting us all."