Venezuela will begin installing 20,000 digital fingerprint scanners at grocery stores around the country Monday as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to combat widespread shortages of basic goods. Maduro blames hoarding and smuggling for the scarcity of common household goods and foodstuffs, and the fingerprint scanners are an effort to curb such activities.
Maduro originally announced the fingerprint scanning program in August 2014. Since then, the government had been rolling out the program in state-run grocery stores along Venezuela’s border with Colombia, but on Saturday the president said that seven major private grocery chains had agreed to install the scanners as well.
Shoppers will have a cap on how much of a certain product they can buy, with fingerprints serving as identification to ensure that they don’t exceed their limits. In some cases, customers will only be allowed to grocery shop on certain days of the week, depending on their identification numbers, in order to scale back the notoriously long wait lines at supermarkets.
Goods shortages have been a common facet of Venezuelan life, with basic items such as chicken, milk, flour and toilet paper often disappearing from some supermarket shelves. Maduro has placed blame on hoarders or smugglers who buy items at Venezuela’s controlled prices and sell them at a premium in neighboring Colombia. Earlier this year, the government nationalized a major grocery chain, accusing its owners of hoarding products and purposely creating long wait lines. The move, Maduro said, was part of a larger “economic war” against Venezuela. He’s also accused political opposition leaders as well as the United States of participating in this offensive.
But critics say the stringent price controls and shortages of foreign currency are the root of the problem, as they’ve discouraged both domestic production and imports. Scarcities have become more severe in recent months as Venezuela has suffered from the drop in global crude oil prices, resulting in mounting frustration over hourslong waits in supermarket lines.