Late last year, a story carried by the wire service AFP reported on an announcement by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that his government would launch "a new chain of government-run, cut-rate retail stores that will sell everything from food to cars to clothing." Chavez reportedly said that these "discount socialist stores" would show people "what a real market is all about, not those speculative, money-grubbing markets, but a market for the people."
This initiative was on top of Chavez's creation of Mercal (link is to the Venezuelan home page, complete with "The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela" logo), a state-run network of grocery stores, seven years ago.
How is this great leap forward into state control working out? A June 18 Reuters dispatch carried at CNBC reports that the government can't even keep its food fresh. But that's okay. The wire service takes a while to get there, and even then a bit of interpretation is necessary, but eventually we learn that the Chavez "solution" to that thorny problem is to seize replacement goods from private merchants:
Hugo Chavez Spearheads Raids as Food Prices Skyrocket
Mountains of rotting food found at a government warehouse, soaring prices and soldiers raiding wholesalers accused of hoarding: Food supply is the latest battle in President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution.
Venezuelan army soldiers swept through the working class, pro-Chavez neighborhood of Catia in Caracas last week, seizing 120 tons of rice along with coffee and powdered milk that officials said was to be sold above regulated prices.
"The battle for food is a matter of national security," said a red-shirted official from the Food Ministry, resting his arm on a pallet laden with bags of coffee.
It is also the latest issue to divide the Latin American country where Chavez has nationalized a wide swathe of the economy, he says to reverse years of exploitation of the poor.
Chavez supporters are grateful for a network of cheap state-run supermarkets and they say the raids will slow massive inflation.
Critics accuse him of steering the country toward a communist dictatorship and say he is destroying the private sector.
They point to 80,000 tons of rotting food found in warehouses belonging to the government as evidence the state is a poor and corrupt administrator.
Jose Guzman, an assistant manager at a store raided in Catia, watched with resignation as government agents pored over the company's accounts and computers after the food ministry official and the television cameras left.
"The government is pushing this type of establishment toward bankruptcy," said Guzman, who linked the raid to the rotten food scandal. "Somehow they have to replace all the food that was lost, and this is the most expeditious way."
The Reuters report goes on to inform readers that "Food prices are up 41 percent in the last 12 months during a deep recession," that Chavez has "revived threats to take over the country's largest private food processor, miller and brewer, Polar," and that "government now controls between 20 percent and 30 percent of the distribution of staple foods."
A search on "Venezuela" at the Associated Press's main site indicates that though there are several stories on developments in that country, the wire service has not reported on this latest ratchet-up of the country's ongoing socialist horror show.
It would be unfair to contend that AP is ignoring Venezuela, but its headlines and/or its dispatches have displayed an annoying tendency to downplay the significance of what should be seen as scary developments.
For example, a June 14 story with a misdirecting headline ("Venezuela takes control of another private bank") would appear to be about government seizure of a financially troubled enterprise. The real story is that the the bank's owner/former owner "just so happens" to be "a minority shareholder of Globovision, the country's last TV channel that takes a stridently anti-government line."
A June 8 AP report on the country's inflation casually notes that "The government has sought to confront inflation with a range of measures including recent seizures and shutdowns of businesses that authorities accuse of driving up prices." Pray tell, what does seizing and shutting down businesses, thereby restricting supply, have to do with fighting inflation?
The wire service also gives a virtual PR voice to Chavez statements that appear at first glance to be ploys designed to position his government as the virtue police. In a deceptively titled June 11 report ("Chavez targets alcohol, smoking in Venezuela"), AP reporter Jorge Rueda uncritically relays Chavez's assertion that "the transition (to socialism) requires a moral crusade to change Venezuelans' values." Readers have to get to Rueda's final paragraphs before they understand what this appeal to virtue is really all about:
Chavez has also recently used the issue in his criticisms of the country's largest food producer, Empresas Polar, which sells the country's leading brand of beer, Polar.
Chavez has ordered the expropriation of some of Polar's warehouses, and has warned he could decide to take over more of the company. If the government did take over the Polar brewery, it would be shut down, Chavez has warned.
Addressing Polar's president, Lorenzo Mendoza, during Thursday's speech, Chavez said: "I don't know what you're going to do ... with your little Polar." He used the term "Polarcita," which Venezuelans often use for the small beer bottles that are popular in the country.
Here's an idea: If CNN, which yesterday declared its independence and fired the Associated Press, wants to make a mark with its own wire service efforts, it might want to consider dispatching correspondents to Venezuela to catch the world up on the slow-motion horror there that the AP and broadcast TV networks have either ignored or downplayed for years.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.