News / Americas

Shortage-weary Venezuelans Scoff at Fingerprinting Plan

People hold their groceries as they line up to pay the cashier at a supermarket in Caracas, Veneuela, Aug. 21, 2014.
People hold their groceries as they line up to pay the cashier at a supermarket in Caracas, Veneuela, Aug. 21, 2014.

A government plan to combat Venezuela's food shortages by fingerprinting shoppers in grocery stores has sparked a backlash ranging from violent street protests to social media campaigns ridiculing the idea.

Shoppers have for more than a year struggled to find basic goods including cooking oil, powdered milk and corn flour as well as detergent, shampoo and diapers.

Apart from a short supply of dollars for imports, the shortages have been blamed on heavy subsidies that allow shoppers to stock up on staples and resell them in neighboring Colombia or on the local black market.

President Nicolas Maduro says the biometric system, to be introduced this year, will allow authorities to weed out smugglers, often seen in lines buying conspicuous amounts of goods that are in short supply.

"It's absurd. How does a fingerprinting machine help you? It's only more regulation," said Jose Briceno, a pastry chef who was once a fervent supporter of late socialist President Hugo Chavez but says his handpicked successor, Maduro, should resign.

"I've reached my limit," said Briceno, 39, adding that he has to go shopping nearly every day to find what he needs for his kitchen.

Demonstrators opposed to the fingerprinting scheme clashed this week with police in San Cristobal, a city near the border with Colombia where product shortages are among the worst in Venezuela.

Some Caracas residents banged pots and pans on Thursday night in a traditional display of anger although the issue looks unlikely to spark the kind of massive demonstrations that rocked Venezuela for three months this year.

"I wanted to strangle Maduro," Esperanza Diaz, a 54-year-old retired government worker, said of the plan.

"We can't keep being abused," she added, speaking in front of half-empty shelves as she stocked up on rare sugar at a sprawling government-run Bicentenario supermarket in central Caracas.

'Scan This'

Government supporters argue that while stores in this oil-rich South American nation used to be better supplied, the poor could ill-afford to stock up on many consumer items anyway.

They blast what they call a pampered, out-of-touch elite for seeking to stir up trouble.

"I agree with the fingerprinting system because I see how smugglers are bleeding the country dry," said Ninoska Mazza, 40, a real estate agent waiting behind other shoppers at a Bicentenario meat counter.

Venezuelans used to dodging socialist regulations are already joking that "rent-a-fingers" will soon emerge to help duck around the system.

A Twitter campaign shows a hand flashing the middle finger with the hashtag #ScanThisFingerprint.

The government has in recent days scaled back the fingerprinting plan, saying it will be voluntary and only required for 23 basic goods. Some Venezuelans are skeptical the plan will even be implemented but others see a dark motive behind it.

"They want to control us," said Monica Betancour, 43, a dentist looking for turkey at a supermarket in posh eastern Caracas.

"Whenever they announce a protest against this, I'll be there," she said.   

You May Like

Taiwan President Sounds Warning on Future of China Ties

Current Taiwan government has eased once dangerously tough relations with Beijing since 2008, but next year’s presidential election could change that course More

US Presidential Candidates Woo Hispanic Voters

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton reached out to Hispanic voters this past week in a bid to boost their voter support More

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Documentary is a close-up and personal view of young woman who has become of global symbol of courage and inspiration More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Rescued Chilean Miners Were 'Battle-Scarred,' Author Says

Despite becoming celebrities after their improbable rescue in 2010, the men were deeply wounded, said writer Hector Tobar

Celebration of Peru's Economic Boom Comes Late

World Bank, IMF policymakers this week call country a prize pupil of financial stability, however, plunging prices for minerals have cut annual growth dramatically

Guatemala Landslide Death Toll Tops 220; Another 350 Missing

Loosened by heavy rains, hillside collapsed onto Santa Catarina Pinula on southeastern flank of Guatemala City October 1, burying scores of homes

Report: More Than 58,000 Violent Deaths Last Year in Brazil

Annual report on public security says number of violent deaths up nearly 5 percent last year from 2013, when country suffered a then high of 55,000 such deaths

UN Launches Review of Possible Corruption

Audit will look at interaction between world body and two organizations that US prosecutors have accused of bribing a former top UN official

US to Publish Records on Chile 1976 Assassination

Orlando Letelier was killed, along with his American co-worker Ronni Moffitt, by a car bomb in the center of Washington