Venezuela seizes toys seen as overpriced, will distribute to poor

Venezuela's fair pricing authority has seized nearly 4 million toys from a private company, which it says it will hand out to poor children for Christmas.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
Santa Claus walks during a visit to residents of the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday.

Millions of poor children in Venezuela will reportedly be getting an extra surprise this holiday season: toys seized by the socialist government from Venezuela's largest toy distributor. 

Venezuela's fair pricing authority seized nearly 4 million toys from three warehouses run by the private company Kreisel on Friday, as agency director William Contreras alleged that the company had underreported its inventory so it could sell toys at higher prices. Two company executives suspected of promoting price speculation were additionally detained. 

The seizure, Mr. Contreras said, would show companies "that you can't play with the rights of Venezuelans." 

Now, the government says, Local Committees of Supply and Production will distribute the toys "fairly" to impoverished children as Christmas gifts. 

"The children of the country will have a happy Christmas," Contreras said, as reported by The Independent. "We will guarantee their Christmas gifts."

The seizure comes as the country struggles through an economic crisis that has resulted in shortages of goods, including food staples and medicine, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in August: 

Venezuela has long faced shortages of staple goods, but over the past year those scarcities have significantly worsened in the wake of sky-high inflation, low oil prices, and years of government policies blamed for the dwindling production of domestic goods.

The country consequently has experienced increased incidences of infant deaths and fainting and undernourished children as well as shortages of vital supplies at hospitals and pharmacies. Using surveys from 2015, a recently released report by the Latin American Study of Nutrition and Health found that nearly a quarter of Venezuelans only get two or fewer meals a day, a statistic that observers say has no doubt gotten worse in recent months. As of April, medical supplies were down more than 85 percent from normal levels, according to the National Federation of Pharmacies.

Venezuela's children have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis, with increased reports of children fainting in school or skipping class to stand in line for food, as the Monitor reported in June. 

"What worries me most is the damage on future generations," Marianella Herrera, a professor of nutrition at the Central University of Venezuela and board director for the Bengoa Foundation, which focuses on health and nutrition in low-income schools across the country, told the Monitor at the time. "Kids are kept home from school [due to hunger] or are missing classes because teacher’s aren’t present. They’re being exposed to the violence that can erupt while waiting in lines for food." 

Recently, President Nicolás Maduro ordered stores across the country to lower their prices between 30 and 50 percent. 

The government's decision to seize toys from Kreisel was criticized by many. Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce President Francisco Martínez told CNN that the government was "acting in an irresponsible way" by discouraging job creation and endangering private property, and some critics took to social media to draw comparisons between President Maduro and the Grinch.

In response, Contreras argued that the executives at Kreisel "don't care about our children's right to have a merry Christmas." 

"They say we're stealing the toys from this company, but the company committed fraud against our country," he told reporters, according to CNN.

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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