Venezuela arrests 131 for reform harm

COUNTRY IN CRISIS::The attorney general said that the detainees stood accused of destabilizing the economy, because they had speculated and hoarded basic products

AFP, CARACAS

Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 7

Venezuelan authorities have arrested 131 people accused of attempting to sabotage reforms implemented by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to alleviate a crippling economic crisis, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab said on Thursday.

The arrests included “several managers of large chains” accused of “speculating and hoarding basic products” that are subject to prices fixed by the government, Saab said.

The detainees are accused of trying to “destabilize the economy,” he added.

Of those arrested, 29 have been permitted conditional release and 10 others exonerated.

Maduro has launched a raft of reforms aimed at ending four years of recession and arresting hyperinflation the IMF predicts will reach one million percent this year.

One of those policies was to fix prices on 25 basic products, including beef, chicken and eggs, all of which have since disappeared from supermarket shelves.

The socialist government says the prices were agreed following talks with businesses and took into account production costs, but the Consecomercio trade union said that only 35 companies were consulted and they did not represent the whole sector.

Shortages have forced hundreds of shops to close.

“Some merchants and businessmen made the decision to close, others are waiting to know the rules of the game that will govern us from now on,” Consecomercio president Maria Uzcategui said.

Even before the uncertainty caused by Maduro’s measures, 40 percent of shops had closed this year, Consecomercio said.

Meanwhile, people have been leaving Venezuela in droves: 1.6 million since 2015, UN figures show.

The exodus has created a migration crisis in other South American countries, particularly Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

Industrial output has dropped to just 30 percent, while oil production is at a 30-year low of 1.5 million barrels a day, which is way down from its record high of 3.2 million 10 years ago, according to OPEC.

Maduro’s reforms included hiking the minimum wage by 3,400 percent and removing five zeros from the currency, which was also devalued to the tune of 96 percent and fixed to the value of Venezuela’s largely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro.

There has also been an increase in value added tax and reduced petrol subsidies. An extra levy has also been slapped on remittances sent home from expats, while banks have been ordered to adopt the petro as a unit of account.