Santa Elena de Uairen, August 27th 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- Now installed in 11 major supermarket chains nationwide, the biometric system initiated by the Venezuelan government to combat scarcity has produced immediate results.
“The eternal lines have grown shorter…. and products that used to be considered “a big find” are ever-increasing upon the shelves,” read the headlines of Zulia state’s largest private newspaper, Panorama. The state’s capital and Venezuela’s second largest city, Maracaibo, has been the center of the government’s pilot program since earlier this month.
The system is composed of fingerprint scanners stationed at the check-out counters, which will keep track of how much each individual is buying, blocking customers from making over-large or over-frequent purchases. It comes in the latest wave of reforms launched by president Nicolas Maduro to eradicate scarcity and speculation.
The measure will only be directed at 23 basic products, among them milk, flour, and beef, which are the most common objects of smuggling. If a customer is not purchasing one of these 23 items, they are not required to scan their fingerprint. It is estimated that 40% of Venezuelan products are smuggled illegally out of the country to be sold for a profit. Internally, the system will avoid the schemes of street vendors, known as buhoneros, who hoard basic items to be re-sold for hugely inflated prices when they grow scarce.
In Maracaibo, supermarket owners have reported to local media that since the system’s installation products which used to be swept off the shelves in a manner of hours are lasting over four days.
Furthermore, in border areas, the biometric system will replace the previous method of taking down each customer’s identification number, which would cause checkout lines to move more slowly. Smuggling mafias would easily steal people’s ID numbers to bypass this previous system.
But not everyone is impressed by the plan. Last week, Caracas mayor and hardline opposition advocate Antonio Ledezma warned that the scanners were a sign of the further “Cubanization” of government policy. Yesterday, the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) upped the ante by declaring a full-on campaign against the system, starting with a nationwide cacerolazo (public banging of pots and pans) in resistance to what MUD spokesperson Cristobal Fernandez Dalo has called a “repressive” operation.
Vice president Jorge Arreaza has asked that Venezuelans not be “manipulated” by the opposition, insisting that the system will not “restrict consumers… only help to identify those who speculate, steal, and profit from the food of our people.”
Other opponents of the system believe it only skims the surface of the real issues at hand.
Caracas resident Alexis Yanes told reporters today that he agreed with the new measures but, “it would be good if companies increased production and improved distribution as well. That [sector] is very impaired right now.”
This Sunday, superintendent of fair prices, Andres Eloy Mendez announced that by November 30th, all markets and supermarkets should count on having the system installed.
On the other side of the struggle against smuggling, the Venezuelan National Guard have been cracking down on the Colombian border since August 12th. So far, 148 people linked to smuggling have been arrested, according to communication minister Delcy Rodriguez.
As of today 641 tons of food, 413,854 liters of gasoline, and 301,440 medicines have been seized while being transported illegally out of the country, Rodriguez noted.