Venezuela seizes Christmas toys to distribute to poor

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A handout photo released by Venezuelan News Agency (AVN) shows a member of Venezuelan Armed Forces walking among boxes of toys during an operation at a toy store in Caracas, Venezuela, 09 December 2016.Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Armed soldiers raided the toy distributor's warehouses

Venezuelan authorities have arrested two toy company executives and seized almost four million toys, which they say they will distribute to the poor.

Officials accused the company of hoarding toys and hiking prices in the run-up to Christmas.

Last week, the government issued an order to retailers to reduce prices on a range of goods by 30%.

Business owners say the order is a populist political move, and pushing them towards bankruptcy.

Venezuela's consumer protection agency, Sundde, said toy distributor Kreisel had stockpiled the goods and was reselling them at a margin of up to 50,000%.

"Our children are sacred, we will not let you rob them of Christmas," it said in a tweet, along with photos and video of thousands of boxes of toys.

Image source, Twitter
Image caption,
"Our children are sacred, we will not let them rob you of Christmas."

In total, 3,821,926 toys were seized from two warehouses, and would be sold at low prices, it said.

William Contreras, head of Sundde, said Kreisel had claimed the toys were old or discontinued. The agency also posted photos of the two executives being marched from the premises by a squad of heavily armed soldiers.

This is not the first time Venezuela has ordered price cuts on retailers, or mobilised armed units to enforce it.

In late 2013, the country introduced laws allowing the government to fix prices and dictate profit margins.

The same legislation limited profits to 30% - the amount often discounted in the compulsory "adjustments" enforced by Sundde at hundreds of retailers in the past week.

Media caption,
Police surround reporter Vladimir Hernandez and order him to stop filming in a supermarket where shoppers have been queuing for 12 hours

The same measures have been used to fix the prices of basic products such as flour, meat and bread - but supply is limited in a country where many people go hungry.

A jar of Nutella - a luxury item - can cost half the monthly minimum wage.

The Venezuelan government is becoming increasingly unpopular as the country's economic crisis grows.

The nation is rich in oil, but international oil prices have fallen in recent years.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation - the rate at which prices go up - will hit 2,000% next year.

Venezuela is ready to issue new, higher-value notes to deal with the problem - but rising prices are still squeezing many ordinary citizens.