1.395 Arrested in Venezuelan Anti-Smuggling Operation

As part of an on-going operation against the hoarding and smuggling of basic goods, Venezuelan authorities have reported that a total of 1,395 people have been arrested for contraband activities.

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The distribution to hospitals of hoarded medical supplies discovered in two large warehouses last week has begun (archive)
The distribution to hospitals of hoarded medical supplies discovered in two large warehouses last week has begun (archive)
By Ewan Robertson
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Mérida, 30th October 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – As part of an on-going operation against the hoarding and smuggling of basic goods, Venezuelan authorities have reported that a total of 1,395 people have been arrested for contraband activities.

Of these, 995 remain detained, 332 have been granted bail, 19 will face trial this week and 47 have been freed, said Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz on Wednesday.

The anti-smuggling operation was launched by President Nicolas Maduro this summer to prevent food, medical supplies, gasoline and construction materials being illegally transported to neighbouring Colombia, where such goods make a higher profit by avoiding Venezuelan price controls.

Venezuela’s vice president, Jorge Arreaza, said earlier this week that so far 9,745 tons of food, 3,049 tons of animal feed and 5,250 tons of construction materials had been seized in the operation.

Meanwhile, the distribution to hospitals of hoarded medical supplies discovered in two large warehouses last week has begun. The warehouses in Aragua state had enough stock of certain medical items to supply the public health sector for a year, according to authorities. A total of 56 types of medical equipment, from syringes to surgical scrubs, were discovered, and are suspected to have been destined for Colombia.

Health Minister Nancy Perez announced yesterday that a further US $17 million had been approved by the government for the import of medicines into the country. “We are fulfilling our commitments, Nicolas Maduro told us that no effort would be spared to guarantee the life and health of the people,” she said to state media.

Measures against smuggling, hoarding and informal sale of price-regulated goods are aimed at combating what critics term an economic crisis in the South American OPEC nation. Principal manifestations of this are shortages of some basic foods, domestic products and medicines, 63.4% annual inflation, and a greatly overvalued fixed-rate currency.

The government argues that inflation and shortages are the result of an “economic war” being waged by hostile business groups, which engage in hoarding, price speculation and smuggling in an effort to weaken the economy and undermine the government.

Conservative opponents instead say that badly planned or “excessive” regulatory economic policies are to blame, pointing the finger at currency controls, price controls and subsidies on basic goods and utilities as limiting production and imports. They advocate monetary and market reforms as solutions.

Dissident left groups meanwhile argue that the government should take a harder line against business and take greater control of imports, while also tackling alleged corruption and bureaucracy in the state apparatus and security forces.

Opinion polls have varied greatly on evaluating the negative effect of the economic situation on President Maduro’s popularity. A poll by the Datanalisis firm at the beginning of October found that support for the president had fallen to its lowest level, at 30.2%, compared with 38% supporting the opposition.

However the latest poll by another company, International Consulting Services (ICS), suggested that Maduro’s popularity is at 53.2%, while 71% disapprove of the opposition’s performance. Both polls used roughly the same sample size of around 1,300.

Nestle workers’ strike

In other economic news, workers at a Venezuelan factory of Swiss food giant Nestle have gone on strike over pay.

Nestle are offering the roughly 780-strong trade union at its factory in El Tocuyo, Lara state, a 50% pay rise. However workers are demanding 65%, citing the need for an on-inflation increase in light of the current situation.

"We're asking that increases be based on inflation... so that money doesn't evaporate from our hands," union leader Jesus Dominguez told Reuters.

Nestle claimed in a statement that it was looking to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible. El Tocuyo is one of five factories the multinational has in the country, and produces cereals, among other food products.

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