CARACAS, May 15 (Reuters) - A major pharmacy chain has started fingerprinting customers in Caracas, as Venezuela’s socialist government tries to halt smugglers and resellers from stocking up on scarce goods from toilet paper to medicines.
Venezuelans often spend hours in lines at stores and are furious at shoppers who scoop up items to re-sell on the thriving black market or in neighboring Colombia for a hefty profit.
President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to crack down on the “bachaqueros” - a word derived from an ant that stings people and moves around leaves - and he argues fingerprinting will curb purchasing beyond permitted limits.
“All the initiatives and efforts to supply Venezuelans are valid,” Luis Manuel De Llano, Farmatodo’s vice president for corporate relations, said. He did not say whether the chain adopted the pilot program voluntarily or at the request of the government.
Maduro has cranked up the pressure on Farmatodo and fellow private retailers to stock their stands, reduce lines and fight smuggling in what he calls an “economic war” against him by unscrupulous businessmen.
Two Farmatodo executives were briefly detained for allegedly exacerbating lines.
Critics and many economists counter that the root causes of shortages are the OPEC country’s currency controls and unsustainable subsidies, and warn fingerprinting does nothing to address them.
With state-run supermarkets already requesting ID cards and also fingerprinting, Venezuelans are increasingly fatigued.
“This is a disaster, I feel like a prisoner putting my fingerprint everywhere,” said Andreina Salveria, 23, as she exited a Farmatodo in affluent eastern Caracas with her young daughter, lamenting that diapers had run out.
Dozens lined up behind her, most for prized detergent, a scene echoed in many of the chain’s 167 stores.
Some Venezuelans, however, are hoping that more regulation could alleviate shortages that have worsened in the capital since the start of the year and are even more severe in the rest of the country, especially in smuggling-rife border areas.
“This shouldn’t be necessary, but I hope it (fingerprinting) decreases smuggling, that this becomes less of a mess,” said Wilfredo Vargas, a 48 year-old chauffer.
Vargas, who regrets voting for the late Hugo Chavez in 1998 and is now staunchly against his successor Maduro, added he sees a dark motive behind the finger scans and fears they are an infringement of citizens’ liberty.
“Whoever calls the shots can pull dirty tricks,” he said, clutching two bags of laundry powder. (Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Christian Plumb)