By Carlos Garcia Rawlins
CARACAS (Reuters) - The Venezuelan government has started to fingerprint shoppers at some state-run supermarkets, in a plan to combat food scarcity which has been derided by some consumers weary of shortages.
Shoppers have struggled for more than a year to find basic goods including powdered milk and cooking oil, as well as certain medicines and diapers. Currency controls implemented over a decade ago under the late President Hugo Chavez mean importers do not have the U.S. dollars required for imports.
Long queues are a ubiquitous sight in shops, while Venezuelans often have to visit several stores to find what they are looking for or settle for substitutes, and friends share tips about where scarce products can be found.
Amid growing frustration, the government said last month it would install a biometric system to weed out smugglers and hoarders, whom President Nicolas Maduro blames for the shortages.
The plan designed to prevent shoppers from stocking up on cheap price-fixed goods has been gradually implemented in some state-run supermarkets which chiefly cater to the government's supporters among poor voters.
"This guarantees price-fixed products will remain on shelves," said Food Minister Yvan Bello during a visit to a huge Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas on Thursday afternoon to drum up support for the initiative.
Around 785,000 people have been registered in six state-run food store chains across the country, the Information Ministry said in a statement.
"The results are excellent," Bello said as he inspected the fingerprinting machines set up in the Bicentenario store's 62 cash registers.
Critics counter fingerprinting shoppers will not attack the root of the problem, while others are alarmed by what they deem an invasion of privacy.
The government said on Thursday that it had arrested 794 suspected smugglers since early August as part of a campaign to stop food and other subsidized products being sold across Venezuela's borders, mainly in neighboring Colombia.
(Reporting by Carlos Garcia Rawlins; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)