Venezuela locks up businessmen for "conspiring" to create long queues in effort to undermine government

Guy Bentley
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Venezuelans face chronic shortages of essential goods (Source: Getty)

Venezuela's increasingly erratic President Maduro has announced that business owners of an unnamed chain of shops have been arrested for purposely creating long queues.

Long lines outside retailers have become one the hallmarks of Venezuela's economic problems, accompanied by soaring inflation and empty shop shelves.

Maduro accused business leaders of "conspiring" against the people and trying to undermine his socialist government.

In a situation that has become reminiscent of the Soviet bloc, Venezuela's economy is suffering chronic shortages of basic goods like flour, chicken and cooking oil.

Instead of blaming tight currency controls and a shortage of US dollars, Maduro has accused a cabal of businessmen of waging an "economic war" against the government. The President told a rally of his supporters on Sunday:

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

Those who use their stores to hurt the people will pay with time in prison.

The chain of stores is accused of deliberately cutting the number of cashiers to create long lines. Since President Maduro came to power, the poverty rate rose from 25 per cent in 2012 to 32 per cent at the end of 2013.

Venezuela won the dubious honor of being the least economically free nation in 2014, according to the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World Index. The continuing collapsing price of oil has also had a major impact on the country's finances.

According to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Venezuela’s oil revenues account for about 95 per cent of export earnings and the oil and gas sector is around 25 per cent of the country’s GDP. Venezuela's GDP dropped 2.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2014.

Last year, Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff said Venezuela was almost certain to default on its foreign debt.

Empty shop shelves in Venezuela (Source: Getty)

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