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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 11:41 GMT
Venezuela 'declares war' on speculators
Pharmacy in Caracas
The price of medicines has risen
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez has declared a "war on speculators" as prices rose after last week's currency devaluation.

The bolivar closed down 5.5% at 917 to the US dollar on Monday, leaving it 16% below the currency band which was abandoned last Wednesday.


We cannot allow a small group that controls commerce to take advantage of these necessary, just and opportune measures to try to enrich themselves

President Chavez
Fears are mounting that the currency's drop will stoke inflation, as imported goods become more expensive and businesses raise prices.

"Denounce them. Visit corner stores, supermarkets, warehouses, watch for those who are adjusting prices, take notes, call us ... I call on the country ... to wage a war on speculators," Mr Chavez said during his weekly radio show Hello President.

The bolivar came under further pressure after the third military officer to voice dissent in two weeks, navy rear-admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo, called for Mr Chavez's resignation.

Consumer protection

On Monday, the consumer protection agency, Indecu, ordered three Caracas stores to closed for illegally raising prices, state news agency Venpres reported.

Pharmacy in Caracas
Tamayo called for Chavez's resignation

"The price of the dollar went up 9% and you can see prices going up 100%, which is not real to the devaluation," Carlos Chirinos, who works for a record production company, told the BBC's World Business Report.

"Speculators are putting the prices up on most of the first hand articles like foods and medicines."

Mr Chavez had vowed to punish those that raise prices on goods imported.

He ordered the police and intelligence services to find and prosecute suppliers and store keepers who raise prices by more than the depreciation of bolivar.

War on speculators

"We cannot allow a small group that controls commerce to take advantage of these necessary, just and opportune measures to try to enrich themselves," Mr Chavez said.

He read out several toll-free telephone numbers that citizens can use to lodge complaints directly to the government.

Business leaders say the price rises are necessary to allow importers to buy stock and pay off credit lines.

Rising inflation would hit the pockets of poor Venezuelans, who have provided a bedrock of support for Chavez' self-proclaimed leftist "revolution" in the world's fourth-ranking oil exporting nation.

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 ON THIS STORY
Carlos Chirinos
"Speculators are putting the prices up on most of the first hand articles"
See also:

18 Feb 02 | Americas
Third officer demands Chavez quit
14 Feb 02 | Business
Venezuela's currency in freefall
13 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Venezuela
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