Price controls fuel illegal trade in Venezuela

Government subsidies blamed for spawning illegal lines of business as Maduro government grapples with economic slowdown.

Caracas – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is struggling to deal with an economic slowdown that has been partly blamed on the Socialist government’s policies, including a complex exchange-rate system.

The Venezuelan trade ministry says it is being corrected in the latest attempt to bring down one of the highest inflation rates in the world. But price controls have only boosted illegal trade.

Miguel Perez, an illegal food trader, says: “We work directly with the Chinese shop-owners who sell us the subsidised goods for a profit. We turn around and re-sell them for more. Unfortunately, the only loser is the consumer.”

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Government subsidies, in place for more than a decade, have created the perfect breeding ground for a black market. And with inflation wresting value from salaries, more and more Venezuelans are joining Perez’s illegal line of business.

So much so, that a new word – bachaqueros – has even been coined for this new breed of entrepreneurs which comes after a native ant.

Like their namesake, the illegal traders work hard, and usually at a small scale.

“I don’t see it as a crime, but I do see it as a deterioration of society, because in the long-run we are all harming each other,” says Perez.

With an economy strapped for cash, the government is likely to reduce imports. As food becomes scarcer, experts predict that this ant-like trade will be replaced by more sophisticated forms of selling contraband.

And when this happens, the bachaqueros will stand to lose their livelihood.

Source: Al Jazeera