CARACAS, Venezuela – It’s getting harder to put meat on the table in Venezuela and the government has been blaming the butchers, arresting dozens on charges of flouting price controls.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday night, however, that he disagrees with the tactic of putting butchers behind bars.
“Don’t mess with the butchers,” Chavez said in a televised speech. “The butcher isn’t the one who’s to blame.”
He called on officials to instead scrutinize distributors and big players in the beef business, saying if they’re violating price controls “what must be done is expropriate everything from them.”
At least 40 butchers were detained last week on charges of speculation for allegedly driving up their prices. Some say they were held at a military base and were later strip-searched when turned over to police.
Cold cases are empty – or display only chicken – at many of Caracas’ butcher shops. Chain supermarkets and crowded municipal markets often offer cuts, but only in small quantities.
Butchers and wholesalers say they have the same problem facing many other industries: government price controls have eliminated profit margins. The recent arrests have prompted some to stop selling beef altogether for fear of ending up behind bars – adding to the scarcity.
Chavez’s socialist government has imposed price controls on many basic foods to combat “savage capitalism” and it blames shortages on growing demand due to rising incomes of the poor.