Venezuela may take control of supermarkets

President Hugo Chavez's government is preparing a decree that would let officials take control of food distribution chains, possibly including supermarkets and storage depots, if services are interrupted, officials said Sunday. Industry and Commerce Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias told a news conference the decree would help curb supply problems that have caused severe shortages of meats, milk and sugar in Venezuela in recent weeks. Industry officials blame the shortages on price controls that oblige retailers to sell at a loss, while the government points the finger at unscrupulous speculators, including supermarket owners and distributors, who hoard food or boost prices. Iglesias said the new legislation would give the government, along with municipal authorities and "communal councils," or neighborhood assemblies, authority over food distribution and sales if private companies such as supermarket chains halt their operations.