Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela installs finger scanners in supermarkets

the Dia a Dia supermarket in the Propatria neighbourhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015.
Image caption Long queues for goods at private supermarkets earlier this year angered Mr Maduro, who accused supermarket owners of worsening shortages

Venezuela is due to begin installing about 20,000 fingerprint scanners at supermarkets across the country, as part of its introduction of rationing.

President Nicolas Maduro said the system would reduce food hoarding and panic buying.

Over the last year there have been long queues at supermarkets because of widespread shortages of basic goods.

Mr Maduro said the shortages were due to manipulation of the food supply and prices.

The president announced that seven major retailers have agreed to install the scanners in stores.

The government first introduced the plans for compulsory biometric cards in August 2014. This followed the failure of a voluntary card system earlier in the year.

Last month the owners of several chains of supermarkets and drugstores were arrested for allegedly artificially creating long queues by not opening enough tills.

Mr Maduro has also accused Colombian food smugglers of buying up price-controlled goods in state-run supermarkets along the border.

Critics argue that the scanners will make little difference as the state policy of control pricing incentivises cross-border smuggling.

Empty shelves

Image caption 'Empty shelves in Venezuela' became a worldwide Twitter phenomenon

In January the hashtag #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela ("Empty shelves in Venezuela") became a worldwide Twitter trend, with over 200,000 tweets as Venezuelans tweeted pictures of empty supermarket shelves around the country.

Last week South American foreign ministers said the region would help Venezuela address the shortages.

The lack of staple foods and medicines has contributed to discontent and to frequent large, often violent anti-government demonstrations.

The economic crisis has been made worse by falling oil prices, with crude oil making up 95% of the country's exports.

Venezuela's plummeting currency rates and the falling price of oil by nearly half since November has diminished its supply of dollars to buy imported food.

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