15 Venezuelan Military Officials Arrested Amid Ongoing Anti-Smuggling Efforts

Caracas, September 1st 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – 15 members of the military, among them a captain and lieutenant, have been charged for facilitating the smuggling of gasoline and basic food items in Táchira state.

By Sascha Bercovitch
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The officials were arrested in Táchira state (Correo del Orinoco)
The officials were arrested in Táchira state (Correo del Orinoco)

 Caracas, September 1st 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – 15 members of the military, among them a captain and lieutenant, have been charged for facilitating the smuggling of gasoline and basic food items in Táchira state.

In addition to allowing certain vehicles to cross the state’s border with Colombia with products subsidized by the Venezuelan government, the officers reopened a dirt road that allowed certain individuals to bypass border security altogether, according to the state’s Public Prosecutor.

These measures come at a time when the Venezuelan government is restricting access to the country’s 2,200 kilometer border with Colombia at night as a means of combatting contraband sales.

In a television interview on Sunday, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello noted that it was an error to attribute the country’s problems with contraband to the military alone.

“There are honorable people within the National Guard, the army, and the other sectors of the military," he said.

During the interview, Cabello also announced that the government’s newly-introduced biometric system, a second means of combating contraband sales, will be utilized in all supermarkets in border states but only in state-run supermarkets in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas.

Initiated last month by the government, the system requires customers to scan their fingerprints when buying basic food products – including milk and corn flour – in an attempt to monitor and prevent bulk and over-frequent purchases associated with smuggling.

While store owners in Zulia, a state from which basic food items are routinely smuggled across the western border with Colombia, reported positive results last week from the system’s pilot program, opposition voices called the measures repressive and a further example of the country’s “Cubanization.”

“It's easier to monitor 50 trucks with GPS than to install fingerprint readers for 27 million Venezuelans," Copei party President Roberto Enríquez said in an interview. “We don't produce enough, and this is one of the consequences of the socialist economic model.”

Economist Rafael Febles Fajardo disagreed in an interview with public newspaper Correo del Orinoco this week, maintaining that contraband affects not only the country's imported products, but also national production. With the new system, Fajardo said, "these problems can be controlled until we gain an economic normalcy."

For his part, Cabello insisted that the program is strictly intended to prevent individuals and groups from engaging in contraband sales, which the government has estimated affect 40 percent of basic food items within the country.

“What we want to know is who is going to the supermarket 10 times per day … [in order to] prevent the fraud that is being done to the rest of Venezuelans with these basic products. No one is going to say, 'you can only buy two bags of corn flour.’ That won't happen,” Cabello said.

The biometric system is expected to go into full effect throughout the country by the end of November, according to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

On Sunday Maduro announced that scarcity had recently decreased by 6.5 percent nationwide, particularly in border states, though he did not provide a source for the figure. The Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) has not reported on the country’s scarcity rate since March.