Venezuela Reduces Lines by Trimming Shoppers, Not Shortages

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Venezuelan authorities have found a way to reduce the long lines generated by shortages at state-run supermarkets: turn away most of those trying to queue up.

To shorten the lines, police today began to enforce a directive from President Nicolas Maduro’s administration that limits consumers to two shopping days per week at government-owned food stores, said Alejandro Milano, a coordinator of Venezuela’s Food Mission.

Thousands lined up outside shops last week as an acute scarcity of foreign currency deepened shortages of everything from sugar to shampoo. The crisis led Interior Minister Carmen Melendez to deploy state security forces to ensure order.

“An ID card to buy food?” said Jose Gomez, a 32-year-old electrician, after being turned away at Bicentenario food market in central Caracas. “I guess I’ll have to go hungry until Friday.”

Police turned away many shoppers under a new system that limited access to stores based on the last digit on a shopper’s national ID card. Venezuela’s Immigration service, SAIME, also checked foreign shoppers’ papers to confirm legal residency.

“The smuggling and long lines are over,” said Milano, 37, who was overseeing security at the state-run Bicentenario store in central Caracas. “This is a much fairer system.”

‘Best Demonstration’

Food Security Regulator Carlos Osorio said the government distributed staples like milk, rice and pasta to more than 4,000 people at a state-run food market in central Caracas over the weekend.

“If there was no food in Venezuela, there would not be these lines we see here,” he said on state television. “We wouldn’t have so many people gathered at these installations. It’s the best demonstration we can have.”

While Maduro has recognized that many basic products are in short supply, he says the scarcities are the product of an economic war waged by opponents seeking to topple the socialist government.

Long lines continued to form today outside private grocery stores, where access was not restricted.

Ricard Perez, 42, an accounting assistant, waited with hundreds outside a Central Madeirense outlet in eastern Caracas on the promise that coffee had arrived.

“It’s exasperating, but it’s the only way to get food in Venezuela,” Perez said.

Two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles criticized the government today in a statement on the persistent shortages and long queues.

“It’s time that people wake up so that their rights are respected,” Capriles said. “This is the moment to express the indignation that we feel and the government doesn’t have a right to stop it.”

(Adds Capriles’ comments in last two paragraphs)
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