CARACAS Venezuelan businesses spent years
conspiring against President Hugo Chavez, but the government
now says they have found a new way to play dirty -- hiding
toilet paper to sway Sunday's vote on expanding Chavez's
Venezuelans have been buying large amounts of toilet paper
on rumours it could be the next hard-to-find thing amid
shortages of products like milk and meat that businesses
attribute to price controls but the government blames on high
demand and hoarding.
"We know there are sectors that are hiding toilet paper,"
Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas told state television on
Friday. "A group of business leaders are playing mean, playing
dirty ... of course trying to create the sensation of product
shortage during the elections."
Some shoppers in supermarkets and pharmacies visited by
Reuters on Friday had filled shopping carts with toilet paper,
and shelves carrying the product were only half stocked.
Polls show Chavez, accustomed to easily winning elections,
in a close fight to win approval for a constitutional overhaul
that would let him run indefinitely for re-election, control
currency reserves and censor media in political emergencies.
Business leaders, who led a botched 2002 coup against
Chavez, say price controls have created nagging shortages of
This has forced shoppers into long lines to buy products or
pay inflated prices, eating into Chavez's traditionally high
approval ratings before the referendum.
Venezuelans typically make nervous purchases before
elections, worried that a disputed vote could lead to violence.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Patricia Rondon Espin;
editing by Hugh Bronstein and Eric Beech)