- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro wants you — to be a roving price vigilante.

In a speech to university students, the socialist successor to the late Hugo Chavez made the call for volunteers to scour shopping malls looking for unfair prices, NPR reported.

“Store owners can’t be allowed to mark up prices 1,000 percent,” said Giovani Morales, a supporter of the decision. “They’re not being asked to give things away, but to charge fair prices.”

Venezuelan businessmen say they are in a tough position: They must import many of their goods, but the government rations the sale of U.S. dollars. In order to get the dollars they, need they turn to the black market, a move that increases the cost of goods. Businesses ultimately must raise the cost of their goods to avoid selling at a loss, and then they’re reported for price gouging.

Out of fear of government reprisals, many business owners have sold items at prices that would placate the price vigilantes, but economists say the tactics will make Venezuela’s economic woes worse. Inflation is above 50 percent, and shortages of basic goods and necessities, such as toilet paper, are now a regular occurrence.

The call for price vigilantes by Mr. Maduro comes a month after he used armed soldiers to force an electronics store to sell its goods at prices he deemed fair. The Venezuelan president also has said that “bourgeois parasites” would be the target of his ire.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela’s Maduro forces electronics store to lower prices — at gunpoint

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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