EspañolThe Venezuelan government is set to launch a new crusade against shortages and their most apparent consequence: long queues. On Wednesday, Andrés Eloy Méndez, the superintendent of fair prices, introduced the controversial plan, “Operation Queue Killer” (Eficiencia Mata Cola), for 80 supermarkets across the country.
According to Méndez, the initiative aims to “protect the sustenance of the Venezuelan family,” through ongoing and thorough inspections that will guarantee the proper functioning of cash registers in the targeted supermarkets.
In an interview on the Venezuelan television program, Mesa Informativa, Méndez referred to an investigation of 66 private supermarkets, conducted on Saturday. Apparently, half had at least one defective cash register — worsening the long lines.
According to Méndez, although the plan will be initiated in supermarkets, he anticipates its extension to other parts of the economy, “where long lines have produced deficient service.”
“One of the grave symptoms we’re experiencing amid the distortions and disorders of our economy is the observed waiting in queues,” Méndez continued.
“When we conducted a thorough examination of why people are waiting in line, the phenomenon that drew our attention the most was that inspected supermarkets had more than half of their cash registers closed. Some even had 81 percent of their registers closed, and people waiting in line for three hours.”
He highlighted Article 99, Paragraph 9, of the Law of Fair Prices: “Anyone providing priority items should do so in an efficient, effective, uninterrupted, and timely manner.”
Méndez explained that all stores should offer quality service, or pay the corresponding fine: “Operation Queue Killer is here to stay until we have fully confronted this issue.”
Cash Registers Mandates per Square Meter
He noted that officials have observed unfavorable behavior on the part of supermarket owners: “It could be that certain stores are removing dysfunctional cash registers to avoid the fine and demonstrate that they are functioning at maximum capacity.”
To confront the alleged illegal activity, Méndez and his team will impose regulations that establish a specific quota of cash registers per square meter.
In response to critics of the regulations, he has asserted that outdated capitalism to blame for “control-phobia.”
Critics Dismiss Operation Queue Killer as Distraction Tactic
For Sonaly Atencio, a member of a Popular Will regional team — the political movement of imprisoned opposition activist Leopoldo López — this initiative is the latest attempt by president Nicholas Maduro’s administration to divert blame from their failed economic policies.
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“They have not been able to solve the problem of shortages of regulated products, and now they try to blame the employees of the grocery stores… Delays in supermarkets and pharmacies are a result of the absence of products, which according to official data is at 40 percent,” decried the Atencio.
She claims these latest cash-register regulations “will not solve anything.” Long lines emerge when a high-demand product, like disposable diapers, arrives in stores.
Biometrics, the ration card of the 21st century?
The superintendent informed grocery-store owners across the country that a national system of biometric measurements – in the form of a fingerprint registry – will be established before the end of the year.
The official confirmed that the new regulation will establish a system of control and restrict the purchase of particular products. In order to implement the new system, the central government will ask supermarkets for weekly lists of the types of products purchased by Venezuelan families.
Méndez says he wants to bring an end to the practice of purchasing large quantities of certain products for resale on the black market.
“[The critics] believe it offends us when they call us communists. It does not offend us; our project is clearly socialist, Chavista. In Venezuela, we have a group of unemployed writers and economists who I would classify as controlophobes. They have a phobia of regulation. They say nothing needs to be controlled.”
José Guerrá, an economist and adviser to the opposition Democracy Unity Roundtable, told the Argentinean newspaper, Clarín, that this Operation Queue Killer and biometric announcement were “the insanity that was missing.”
“Now we are only missing the government regulating exactly where the cash registers should be. Honestly, this is really insane. Let’s call it what is. It’s not a supply card. It’s a ration card. If the supply is there, what’s the need for the card?”