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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 13:21 GMT
Chavez threat to seize food shops
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez was given the power to rule by decree in January
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has threatened to nationalise stores that sell meat above a government-set price.

The government says supermarkets have been artificially boosting prices of basic foods by manipulating stockpiles.

But critics blame regular food shortages on prices imposed four years ago, forcing shops to sell at a loss.

Many privately-owned supermarkets have suspended sales of beef, milk and sugar after one chain was temporarily closed for pricing meat above allowed levels.

The government has already seized goods that it says are being hoarded to drive up prices.

The products have been sold at government-run Mercal supermarkets, which sell staple foods at discount prices in poor areas, and at makeshift distribution centres.

'First excuse'

Shopper at a Mercal supermarket
Mercal stores are selling food seized by the authorities

President Chavez told a gathering of pensioners in the capital, Caracas, that he was waiting for the "first excuse" to take over privately-owned outlets that manipulate prices.

"If they insist on violating the interests of the people, the constitution and laws, I will take away the warehouses, the shops, I will take away the supermarkets and I'll nationalise them," he warned.

He has stepped up his nationalisation programme since winning re-election in December.

In recent weeks, he has bought stakes in electricity and television companies from US firms.

Prices raised

Venezuela's inflation rate rose to a two-year high in January, with consumer prices rising 18.4% in 12 months.

Earlier this week, the government raised the prices it sets on staple foods, but retailers said they had not gone high enough to take account of their increased costs.

Some private companies are also concerned about President Chavez's intention to make them allow their employees time during the working day to study socialism.




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