Venezuela’s ‘Operation Merry Christmas’ controls prices, makes gifts affordable

World Today

Unlike their North American counterparts, Venezuelans less-likely to spend money. But this holiday, the country’s consumers are taking out their wallets a lot more, thanks to a government plan. CCTV America’s Martin Markovits reported this story from Caracas, Venezuela.

Venezuela's 'Operation Merry Christmas' controls prices, makes gifts affordable

Unlike their American counterparts, Venezuelans are pretty gun-shy when it comes to spending money. But this holiday, the country's consumers are getting a break thanks to a government plan. CCTV America's Martin Markovits reported this story from Caracas.

Under Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro’s “Operation Merry Christmas,” everything from clothing to consumer appliances are being sold at a fraction of their cost. Government rules mean merchants can’t charge more than a 30 percent markup. The overwhelming public response has led to massive shopping lines.

The government has also launched Christmas fairs which sell products at reduced rates and have been doing brisk business since early November. But the demand for these products is too high. Thousands of people have thronged to these fairs only to find that most of these goods have already sold out.

The price-control program comes as Venezuela copes with an inflation rate that tops 60 percent, the highest in Latin America. The Maduro government has tried to ease the economic pain with a 15 percent minimum wage increase announced earlier this month. Still, the government’s approval numbers are way down.

Critics say that Christmas fairs and minimum wage hikes are only temporary remedies. They say the government price and currency controls have caused a shortage of dollars that have stopped imports and caused widespread shortages.

“The government wants to reduce economic hardship during the holidays. But they don’t have the capacity to continue reducing the price of goods all year long. Retailers have to sell at such low prices that they’re practically giving stuff away. The retail sector can’t be the remedy for the government’s economic problems,” Asdrubal Oliveros an economist said.

Shopper Luz Ortega said government price controls mean the cost of the Barbie doll her daughter wants for Christmas is much more affordable. The price was slashed nearly 80 percent. Many goods are available at half the price and there’s savings to be had on food for holiday meals too. The savings are worth the long lines, she said.

“You have to stand in a lot of lines. There’s a line for pork, a line for milk, a line for gifts. You can wait for as long as five hours in a line. But that’s okay. In reality everything is really inexpensive,” she said.

Maduro’s popularity got a boost during a similar price-reduction plan last year. It remains to be seen how this this year’s plan might affect his approval rating-which dropped to a low of 30 percent this fall.