Rice and other basic foods have been placed under the charge of generals and admirals by President Maduro of Venezuela in another sign of the military’s influence over the free-falling economy.
Up to 50 military commanders will direct the distribution of various goods. The move was announced on state television by Vladimir Padrino, the defence minister, who said he was acting on orders from Mr Maduro.
“I have assigned a general, with a civilian and military team of assistants, to each important, basic product,” he said on Mr Maduro’s personal TV programme. “A general or an admiral will be the head, for example, of rice, and so on.”
Eighteen generals had been appointed, he said, with as many as 32 more to follow. Venezuela’s armed forces have 1,200 generals and admirals.
Food production and distribution are tightly regulated, and the government applies price controls to most basic consumer goods, including bread, milk, toothpaste and toilet paper. Only selected shops can sell these controlled products and Venezuelans sometimes have to queue for hours to buy a loaf of bread.
Other goods, the prices of which are not under government control, are freely on sale, but few Venezuelans can afford them because of the high inflation that has plagued the country since early last year. The value of the bolivar has plunged to more than 1,000 to the dollar on the black market, compared with the official rate of 10 to one.
Last month the government raised the minimum wage for the third time this year to 22,000 bolivars (£16.50) a month.
Rocío San Miguel, a military expert, said: “It is a distortion of reality that 18 generals have the ability to resolve the situation, while their captains and lieutenants do not even have food in their barracks.”