Venezuela will fingerprint shoppers to curb bulk buying amid shortages

Idea is to stop bulk purchases of single items, but critics liken the plan to rationing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 9:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 10:35pm


Venezuelans could soon have to scan their fingerprints to buy bread.

President Nicolas Maduro says a mandatory fingerprinting system is being implemented at grocery shops to combat food shortages by keeping people from buying too much of a single item. He calls it an "anti-fraud system", like the fingerprint scan the country uses for voting.

Outlining the plan, Maduro did not say when it would take effect, but other administration officials suggested it could be in place by December or January.

The move was met with scepticism. Critics said the idea is tantamount to rationing and constitutes a breach of privacy.

Others wondered if anything short of a systemic overhaul of the economy could restock the country's bare shelves.

Venezuela has been grappling with shortages of basics such as cooking oil and flour for more than a year. In the spring, the administration tried a similar system in government-run supermarkets on a voluntary basis.

Rigid currency controls and a shortage of United States dollars make it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to find imported products. Price controls don't help either, with producers complaining that some prices are set too low to make a profit and justify production.

The administration blames the shortages both on companies speculating with an eye to future profits and on black market vendors who buy groceries at subsidised prices and resell them for several times the amount.

In his announcement, Maduro suggested easing some of the country's price controls, but did not provide specifics. Defenders of the controls say that by keeping prices low, the poor can lead more dignified lives.

Last week, Venezuela began closing its border with Colombia at night in an effort to cut down on smuggling, which Maduro has said diverted nearly 50 per cent of Venezuela's cheap food.

As of January, more than a quarter of basic staples were out of stock in Venezuelan shops, cording to the central bank.