Authorities in Venezuela arrested 131 people on charges of “economic sabotage,” Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime announced on Thursday.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the arrests included “several managers of large chains,” who he accused of trying to “destabilize the economy” by “speculating and hoarding basic products” subject to government price controls. Since the spate of arrests, just 29 people have been granted conditional release while a further ten have been exonerated.
The crackdown comes shortly after Maduro introduced a range of economic reforms intended to revive the country’s shattered economy that included lopping five zeroes off the value of the Bolivar currency and increasing the country’s minimum wage by 3,500 percent.
In announcing the reforms, Maduro warned private businesses there was “no excuse” for raising their prices because of his pledge to pay for the additional cost of hiring employees for three months. The regime claims that it agreed on fixed prices after talks with businesses and analyzing costs of production, although this claim was disputed by the Consecomercio trade union who said just 35 companies were consulted.
As such, the government intended to fix prices on 25 basic products, including beef, chicken, and eggs, although the price controls have meant many of these products have just disappeared altogether.
The arrests also make grim reading for private enterprise across the country, as the Maduro regime seeks to consolidate a Cuba-style socialist vision by seizing control of businesses whose prices are too high for Venezuelans, who have recently been living off monthly minimum wage of just a couple of dollars a month.
The regimes of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro have long employed tactics of intimidation against private businesses, mainly by coercing them to lower their prices. Private operations are now closing at an unprecedented rate because of steep costs and an inability to turn a profit, or merely fear of reprisal from the regime. According to figures from Consecomercio, 40 percent of shops have closed this year, and that figure is only expected to rise.
Last Sunday, Maduro announced the creation of a “Ministry of Interior Commerce” on Sunday designed to “unify” the country’s private and public sectors, a move many fear will only deeper entrench the regime’s meddling in private enterprise.
The struggle of Venezuelan businesses is just one of many cases of the country’s total economic meltdown in the aftermath of Hugo Chávez’s socialist revolution. Thousands of people now fleeing every day to nearby countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador, in what is now being described as one of the world’s leading humanitarian crises.