With Inflation in Venezuela having surpassed 2,000%, the embattled government of President Nicolas Maduro has ordered shops to slash prices of goods to alleviate some of the burden on consumers, who’ve struggled to carry out basic transactions to purchase staples like food as hyperinflation causes prices to rise every few hours.
Maduro ordered more than 200 supermarkets in Latin America’s socialist paradise to cut prices back to last month’s levels.
News of the discounts spread like wildfire, leading hundreds to gather in front of stores before daybreak. When one major supermarket in the wealthier neighborhood of eastern Caracas remained closed past its normal hours, people began pounding on the storefront.
Many of the crowd’s denizens voiced their disapproval of Maduro’s government.
“We’re hungry! We want food!” screamed the crowd, which included babies, pensioners and children with disabilities.
“This scares me, but what can I do?” said Francisco Guaita, a carpenter hoping to find food for his three children, over the shouts and pushes. “This is the worst government. We want Maduro out.”
Critics said Maduro risked worsening the crisis by dissuading supermarkets from stocking their shelves, while also encouraging looting, according to Reuters.
The socialist, who was narrowly elected to replace the late Hugo Chavez in 2013, counters that he is a victim of a US-led “economic war” in which businesses hoard food and stoke prices to destabilize his government. He has also blamed websites like dolartoday.com, which publishes black-market exchange rates for the bolivar.
The state agency in charge of ensuring “fair prices” ordered some 214 supermarkets owned by 26 chains to drop their prices, pro-government newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported on Saturday, claiming that the chains were raising prices unfairly.
“This Tuesday we received an accusation and we deployed immediately. We confirmed that the big chains were increasing prices without any justification, because they were doing it for products that were in stock, not new ones,” William Contreras, the head of the agency known as Sundde, told the paper.
Several Venezuelans interviewed in line outside the supermarket in eastern Caracas said they thought Maduro’s policies were a disaster. But they still planned to take advantage of lower prices because they were not able to properly feed their families otherwise.
“It’s bad policy. But we have to eat,” said Edgar Romero, a 45-year-old drummer who supported Chavez but said he has soured on Maduro, as he stood in line under the sizzling sun.
Armed National Guard soldiers later arrived at the store and ordered people into clear lines, warning that they would not be allowed in otherwise. They eventually let the crowd through in small groups just before midday, but people quickly emerged disappointed as only crackers and washing liquid were discounted.
“I can’t feed my kids with this,” said Jesus Gudino, a 29-year-old moto-taxi driver and father of three, sneering at the small plastic bag in his hand. “I’ve been here since 4 am. This is a mockery. What can I do? I have to leave this country.”