Venezuela’s Maduro vows stricter business inspections

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said a stricter wave of inspections for suspected price-gouging would begin today in an aggressive pre-election “economic offensive” aimed at taming the highest inflation in the Americas.

“We’re not joking, we’re defending the rights of the majority, their economic freedom,” Maduro said yesterday, alleging price irregularities were found in nearly 99 percent of 1,705 businesses inspected so far this month.

Maduro, who has staked his presidency on preserving the legacy of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, launched a theatrical – and often televised – wave of inspections this month to force companies to reduce prices.

He says “capitalist parasites” are trying to wreck Venezuela’s economy and force him from office.

Opponents scoff at the measures as cheap and short-term populism that is hiding the failure of Venezuela’s socialist economic model and intended to win votes at an upcoming poll.

Economic problems, including inflation running at an annual 54 percent and shortages of basic products, have been Maduro’s biggest challenge since taking office in April.

“The inspections are continuing daily and have let us see into the under-world of capitalism,” Maduro said in his latest speech to the nation, warning of severe sanctions starting Saturday against businesses maintaining unjustifiably high prices.

Government officials say companies have been marking up prices by as much as 1,000 percent over cost, though many retailers say they have been forced to hike prices sharply due to lack of access to foreign currency at the official rate.

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