Venezuelan Officials Seize Warehouse with Enormous Cache of Hoarded Items as Opposition Calls for Strike

by Cory Fischer-Hoffman, Venezuela Analysis

Following increased buying during the holiday season, Venezuela is facing shortages in food, basic goods, such as diapers and laundry detergent, medicine, and automotive items. As lines to purchase goods, especially at state-subsidized markets, have continued to grow, opposition leaders called for a nationwide strike on Monday- which was widely ignored.

“The opposition’s call to a nationwide strike on Monday, which no one supported, is another failure by the adversaries of the Venezuelan government” Prensa Latina reported. Vice President Jorge Arreaza noted in a public address that students returned to school and Venezuelans returned to work as usual, with very little visible evidence of people striking.

Governor of Miranda state and former opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles has recently escalated the call for Venezuelans to mobilize against the government. “We are in a state of emergency,” he said on Monday. “This is the time to mobilize in the streets.”

The opposition governor did not support the militant street actions (locally known as guarimbas) that took place in 2014 and left 43 people dead. State-newspaper Correo del Orinoco reported that Capriles’ current rallying call maintains those views with the slogan, “Mobilizations, yes! Guarimbas, no!”

Over the weekend Reuters reported that Venezuelan police arrested 16 people who were protesting outside of supermarkets in the western state of Zulia. Delsa Solórzano, a minor who is in charge of human rights issues for the opposition coalition MUD (Democratic Unity round-table) was one of the protestors who was detained and then immediately released along with three others, the Correo del Orinoco reported.

On Saturday, 8 cars were fire-bombed at the state-run CANTV Telecommunications firm in Puerto Ordaz and opposition groups are suspected of being involved.

“An Economic Coup”

In December, Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Assembly and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), alerted the Venezuelan people that the opposition would intensify protests and destabilization plans in early 2015. Cabello claimed that an opposition group calling itself “Anonymous War” would be implementing “Operation Checkmate” and would count on the backing of opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Marina Corinna Machado.

Transnational Media corporations like CNN are also poised to broadcast a “live transmission” of disruptions, Cabello claimed on January 7th.

Meanwhile president Nicolas Maduro weighed in from Algeria, “It is a design to try and disturb the people by taking things to extreme situations, this is the vital concept of destabilizing the country(…) an economic coup, but the people are defeating it in the streets.”

The Venezuelan leader is currently on an international tour to seek loans and investment deals in the face of decade-low oil prices.

95% of Venezuela’s export earnings is based on the sale of petrol and derivatives, and as the barrel keeps falling, many economists are speculating about Venezuela’s ability to service its external debt and fulfill its domestic budgetary commitments.

The credit rating organization Moody’s estimates that the “dramatic oil price drop” will be sustained, and have consquently cut Venezuela’s rating- making it the world’s worst among countries not in default. A representative of the Wall Street company told Reuters yesterday that the sliding prices “will more than outweigh the potential benefits of future foreign investment inflows.”

Amidst debate in the financial press about Venezuela’s possible default, economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy and Francisco Rodríguez of Bank of America Merrill Lynch both argued that Venezuela’s shortages are not due to an inability to pay its debt but due to internal monetary policy. But with the cost of a barrel of brent crude oil falling nearly to half its amount in June, 2014, Venezuela’s internal economic problems have only become amplified.

Representatives of the Venezuelan government continue to blame the long lines and shortages on an “economic war” organized by the opposition along with transnational capital.

“We do not control the distribution of food, because the majority is private; 70% of the Gross Domestic Product is private and this means that they [the private sector] control all of the networks of distribution, where they execute the maneuvers of planned shortages. How do they do it? Through hoarding” Carlos Lazo, Director of the Research Institute Bolivar-Marx said on the program Sin Coba which airs on state-owned VTV.

Hoarded Goods

On Monday, a warehouse full of basic goods was seized in the Industrial Zone of the municipality of San Francisco in the state of Zulia belonging to the company Herrera C.A. Over 1.5 million diapers; 360,000 kilos of detergent, 277 thousand units of soap, and 14,000 units of baby formula were found there, in addition to corn flour, black beans, rice, shampoo and other items.

Andrés Eloy Méndez, the superintendent of fair prices signaled “They [the private sector] want to generate the sensation that there are no products. Here they are. This company has warehouses in 9 states in the country. Now, they are all occupied by the government and the merchandise will be distributed to the people.” Méndez also warned that this type of hoarding of basic goods comes with a 10-12 year prisons sentence.

As the government to continues to crack down on the trafficking of basic goods and re-selling of subsidized food at higher prices on the black market, the Venezuelan daily paper Ultimas Noticias reported the detention and deportation of 190 people, the majority of whom are Colombian nationals, accused of related activities. Since October of last year, selling basic goods on the informal market is illegal, in accordance with new laws passed to combat scarcity.

To curb long lines in supermarkets, the government announced this week that shoppers can only go to the state-subsidized supermarkets on days that correspond with the last digit of their identification cards. People in large cities must now abide by the following system; those whose ID numbers ends in 0-1 can shop on Mondays; 2-3, Tuesdays; 4-5, Wednesdays; 6-7 Thursdays and 8-9; Fridays.

While some Venezuelans have criticized the more limited schedule independent news source Aporrea reported a reduction in lines following the implementation of the system earlier this week.

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