Venezuela Will Fingerprint Grocery Shoppers to Control Purchases

In Depth

In Dystopian Present news, Venezuela is about to start fingerprinting citizens to control how much food they’re allowed to buy when they shop for groceries.

President Nicholas Maduro announced the move earlier this week, calling it an “anti-fraud system” (Venezuela uses a similar system for voting*). It’s designed to stop people from buying too much of any single product — apparently, it’s common for black market dealers to buy out a lot of one product and then re-sell it at an astronomical markup. It’s unclear when the system will go into place, although the smart bet is some time around December or January.

Venezuela has been suffering food shortages for over a year now (last January, the country’s central bank scarcity index reported that a quarter of staple products were out of stock in stores), thanks to a variety of factors. Currency controls have impacted the amount of foreign products available. The biggest factor, however, is probably the price controls the Venezuelan government has in place — the cost of selling products in Venezuela is often kept so artificially low that the sale price doesn’t off-set the production cost. As a result, up to 40% of the goods produced in Venezuela wind up being smuggled across the border to Colombia and sold there. It’s progressed to the point where both countries agreed to lock down the border at night to try to mitigate smuggling, and Colombia didn’t object when Venezuela decided to station 17,000 troops along their shared border.

But the current solution on the table doesn’t seem to actually fix anything about the root cause of the issue: the shortages themselves. As critics have pointed out, this is basically rationing — it’s hard to see it any other way. This might combat shady black market practices, but until Venezuela figures out a way to deal with the issue of shortages, these problems aren’t going anywhere.

* Actually, this would be an infinitely better system for combating voter fraud than the GOP’s proposed (and in some unfortunate cases, passed) Voter ID Laws — except we know damn well that Voter ID Laws aren’t designed to combat fraud, but to disenfranchise traditionally Democratic voters.

Image via Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock.

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