Venezuela inflation data delay sparks controversy

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2013 11:44 AM
Venezuela inflation data delay sparks controversy

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has delayed publishing its closely watched monthly inflation data, sparking opposition accusations that the figures might be manipulated to suit President Nicolas Maduro's "economic offensive" to bring prices down.

The Central Bank is supposed to publish the latest consumer price index within the first 10 days of the month. But no information on November inflation was forthcoming by Friday.

A Central Bank spokeswoman told Reuters there were no plans to publish the figure on Friday, but could not explain the delay. "We don't know the reasons," she said.

The South American OPEC nation's inflation is the highest in the Americas - prices jumped 5.1 percent in October, taking the annual rate to 54.3 percent.

Maduro has made bringing prices down a center-piece of his presidency, sending soldiers and inspectors into businesses from November to force retailers to make discounts.

He blames capitalist "speculators" for excessive price hikes, while critics say Venezuela's high inflation and shortages of many basic products symbolize the failure of socialist policies including strict currency controls.

Maduro himself had forecast November inflation of minus 5 percent, giving the data a higher-than-usual political connotation.

Elias Eljuri, head of the national statistics institute, said earlier this week the delay was not because any figures were being changed but because the "atypical" measures of November were being taken into account on the indicators.

Local business daily El Mundo reported on Friday that Maduro's measures had reduced inflationary pressure in some areas, but not the heavily weighted food sector.

It quoted government sources as saying November inflation was between 2.5-3.5 percent, with the annual rate up to 59 percent. ( http://link.reuters.com/qed65v )

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost an April election to Maduro, said the November figure was 4 percent, with the annual figure at 57 percent, according to his sources within government.

"It looks like they're massaging it," Capriles said via Twitter.

Maduro's price reduction campaign has so far focused on home appliances, car parts and home hardware items that comprise a relatively small portion of the index compared with weightier day-to-day expenses such as food, transportation and housing.

His "economic offensive" helped the ruling Socialist Party and its allies win the majority of votes in a nationwide election for mayors earlier this month.

Venezuela's inflation malaise pre-dates Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez's 14-year rule, spiking to even higher levels in the 1990s, according to IMF data.

(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)