Chavez vows clampdown on post-devaluation speculators

CARACAS, Jan 10, 2010 (AFP) - President Hugo Chavez warned Sunday that any price speculation by shopkeepers will trigger business seizures, and called on the National Guard to help people fight price gouging.

"To those gentlemen, let's call them looters of the people... If they want to, go ahead and do it, but we'll take their business and hand it over to the workers," Chavez said on his weekly radio and television talk show "Alo Presidente."

Venezuelans crowd together inside an electrical appliance store in Caracas on January 9, 2010 (AFP PHOTO)

The firebrand leftist president was tackling fallout from his announcement Friday to devalue the local currency for non-essential imports to 4.30 bolivars per dollar -- double the present rate -- but to just 2.60 bolivars for basic goods to help poorer Venezuelans.

"If tomorrow a butcher shop opens its doors with a price increase, report it and let the National Guard step in," Chavez said.

"I'm even capable of taking the butcher shop away (from its owner) and turn it over to the people working in it."

Economists predict a devaluation-induced spike in inflation, which last year already hit 25 percent. Thousands of people descended on local shops Saturday, hoping to buy imported goods ahead of imminent price increases.

"There's no reason prices should go up," Chavez said, warning Venezuelans to beware of scammers.

"We're going to launch an offensive against speculation... I want the National Guard to help people on the street fight speculation."

Chavez gave a special warning to banks who fail to serve their customers properly.

"There's a bank out there that's treading dangerous ground. It knows who I'm talking about. They're not going to blackmail me. Any banker who slips up, I'll take the bank away from him, no matter how big it is," Chavez said without naming the institution.

The bolivar's devaluation was the first since 2005, and was designed to aid public finances that have withered amid dwindling oil revenues and a rapidly contracting economy.

Critics said the move would allow Chavez to boost public spending ahead of elections in September, but would severely damage the health of the economy.

Since coming to office, Chavez has sought to remake the Venezuelan economy, vowing to create a more equitable, socialist model.

He has initiated a string of nationalizations of foreign firms, banks and measures that have sent inflation soaring.

Source: AFP

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