Last week, the Venezuelan government resorted to drastic measures to cap the rocketing prices of electronic goods: the army was ordered to occupy ‘expensive’ department stores to force them to lower their prices. In the city of Valencia, some residents took that as a green light to go on a looting spree.
President Nicolas Maduro, elected in April following Hugo Chavez’s death, launched his initiative on November 8 to fight back against what he called “bourgeois parasites”. National guard forces took over a number of department stores across Venezuela and arrested several managers accused of price speculation. The prices of electronic appliances had increased by 1,000% over the course of the year. Company executives blamed this increase on the high inflation rate, which is currently at an annual rate of 54%.
Several factors explain Venezuela's high rate of inflation. Firstly, the country’s national currency – the Bolivar - was devalued by a third in February 2013 to cover the budget deficit created by the electoral campaign. What's more, even though the official exchange rate with the dollar is now at 6.30 Bolivars, the black market rate is ten times higher. That has a direct impact on companies that have to import products. Unlike local products, the government does not control the prices of imported products, which can reach extremely high levels.
“This so-called campaign against top executives is just a smokescreen”
In the industrial city of Valencia in central Venezuela, the government’s announcement caused hundreds to queue up in order to take advantage of low prices. However, on Saturday, the situation degenerated into looting. According to Yolimar Rosales, who witnessed the event, both the government and citizens are to blame.
People began to queue in front of the stores as soon as they heard the official announcement. The queuing continued into Saturday morning, with people even writing numbers on their hands to determine the order that they would go in. There were about 2,000 people, it was impressive! Among this group, there were young men who had been drinking and were looking for trouble. They started the looting spree.Looting of a Daka store in Valencia.These stores may certainly charge excessive prices, but I disagree with the Venezuelan proverb that he who steals from a thief deserves 100 years of forgiveness! I think these youths should be punished [Editor’s note: authorities claim to have arrested five looters]. But the other citizens are also indirectly responsible for this looting when they rush to the shops to buy cheaply. The economic situation is so unstable that people are always terrified that there will be a shortage or that they will no longer have the means to buy goods. As a result, they buy items whenever they can, even things they don’t need.If there’s a reason this all happened, it’s because the government’s decision to make this announcement was irresponsible. This so-called campaign against top executives is just a smokescreen. During formal events, you will see these same politicians lauding and shaking hands with the very executives that they are now demonising. Yesterday, a government officer made promises to a national newspaper that he would vote for a law to cap prices. It’s always like this in the run-up to elections [municipal elections are scheduled to take place on December 8]: politicians will say or do anything in order to get more votes.Looting of a Daka store in Valencia.