CARACAS Shoppers in oil-rich Venezuela often
can't find basic food items in stores but the government of
President Hugo Chavez on Sunday turned up a huge stash of milk
and chicken in a private health clinic.
Inspectors from the consumer protection agency Indecu found
the shelves of the upscale Caracas Policlinica Metropolitana
stocked with half a tonne of milk and a similar amount of
Indecu coordinator Jesus Benavides told reporters the
products had been illegally diverted from a chain of state-run
subsidized grocery stores, which sell primarily to poor
Venezuelans who form Chavez's support base.
The clinic will face fines for violating an anti-hoarding
law Chavez passed last year and a possible criminal
investigation, Benavides said.
Chavez has repeatedly complained that private clinics
charge too much for services and has threatened to take them
over. Policlinica Metropolitana did not answer calls seeking
Business leaders blame Chavez's strict price controls for
shortages in the OPEC nation, saying they have not kept pace
with inflation which has created a thriving black market.
Venezuela has benefited from high oil prices but faces
Latin America's highest inflation, which reached 22.5 percent
Government leaders attribute the shortages of basic
foodstuffs to increased demand by poor families. They also say
unscrupulous businesses are hoarding food or smuggling it into
neighboring Colombia where it fetches higher prices.
Chavez has won broad support from the nation's poor by
using oil revenues to finance social programs, but his
supporters are increasingly complaining about food shortages,
rampant crime and poor trash collection.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Fabian Andres Cambero,
editing by Alan Elsner)