Venezuela threatens to take over bakeries that break rules
The Venezuelan government says it will expropriate bakeries which fail to abide by new government regulations aimed at tackling bread shortages.
In a growing row between the government and bakers, officials said that bakeries could face fines if people had to queue to get their bread.
Severe shortages of basic goods mean that Venezuelans often have to queue for hours to buy essential items.
The government says the shortages are caused by an "economic war".
Sweet over savoury
Venezuela does not produce wheat and relies on imports bought in by the government which it then sends to mills where it is ground and then distributed.
The government blames bakers for the bread shortages, accusing them of using the flour allocated to them to bake pastries rather than simple baguette-style bread in order to maximise their profits.
Croissants and other sweet baked goods are more expensive than baguettes and French-style breads, as the prices for the latter are controlled by the socialist government.
New rules for Venezuelan bakers:
- Use 90% of flour to bake savoury bread and only 10% for pastries and cakes
- Provide a constant supply of bread throughout the day from 07:00 to 19:00
- Ensure next day's supply by holding over bread from the previous day
Under the new regulations, bakers will be forced to use 90% of the flour they are given to bake ordinary bread and only 10% for pastries and other sweetened goods.
'They're going to pay'
On Sunday, President Nicolas Maduro announced that inspectors would be sent to 709 bakeries in the capital, Caracas, to ensure they were complying with the new rules.
He said that those "speculators who hide the bread from the people will face the weight of the law".
"They're going to pay, I swear. Those responsible for the bread war are going to pay and they better not complain that it was a political persecution," he added.
Vice-President Tareck El Aissami warned that "bakeries which do not follow [the rules] will be occupied by the government".
But the baker's federation, Fevipan, says it cannot produce more bread unless its members are given more flour.
On Tuesday, it said in a tweet [in Spanish] that 80% of bakeries had "zero inventory", while the remaining bakeries had only received 10% of the monthly supplies".
"When there's flour, we sell bread, but they only send it every 15 or 20 days," a worker in a Caracas bakery told the Agence France Press news agency.
"We are given 20 sacks and normally we'd need eight a day," he said.
According to Fevipan, government imports of wheat this year so far have fallen far short of the amount needed to guarantee an adequate supply of flour.
The Venezuelan government, which relies almost entirely on oil exports for its foreign revenue, has struggled to import enough goods to meet demand after the global fall in oil prices.