Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelan shop owners arrested over long queues

Queue outside supermarket in Caracas Image copyright Reuters
Image caption People queue to buy subsidised goods at a state-run supermarket in Caracas

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the owners of an unnamed chain of shops have been arrested for artificially creating long queues.

Mr Maduro said the owners had reduced the number of employees working on cash tills in order to create queues and "annoy the Venezuelan people".

He has accused Venezuela's business elite of boycotting his government.

The opposition blames the socialist policies of the past 16 years for the worsening economic crisis.

"Yesterday we detected that a famous chain of stores was conspiring, irritating the people," said Mr Maduro.

"We came, we normalized sales, we summoned the owners, we arrested them and they're prisoners for having provoked the people," he said.

'Time in prison'

A week ago, thousands of Venezuelans attended an opposition march in Caracas, banging empty pots to highlight what they say is the shortage of many staple foods.

Demonstrators also voiced discontent at high inflation, crime and long queues.

Many analysts say currency controls that restrict the availability of dollars for imports play a key role in creating a scarcity of many items.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Maduro says many Venezuelan businessmen are plotting against his government
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The opposition protest was billed "the march of the empty pots"

But President Maduro is adamant that many businessmen are colluding with the political opposition to oust his government.

He accused four supermarket chains of hoarding goods and smuggling items out of the country.

"Those who use their stores to hurt the people will pay with time in prison," Mr Maduro told a group of his supporters.

Last month he called on the National Assembly to open an inquiry into what he described as "an economic war" waged against his socialist government.

Venezuela - a major oil producer - has been heavily affected by the fall in oil prices on international markets. The economy officially entered recession in December.

Figures released by the central bank showed that GDP declined by 2.3% in the third quarter of 2014, after contracting by 4.8% and 4.9% in the first and the second quarters respectively.

Inflation in Venezuela reached 63.6% in the 12 months to November, one of the highest rates in the world.

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