Venezuelans protest new fingerprinting system to limit food purchases

New protests broke out in the Venezuelan city of San Cristobal, cradle of the anti-government protests that erupted last February, rejecting a recently announced fingerprint-reading biometric system designed to limit citizens' food purchases.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that all supermarkets, pharmacies and other stores will implement a compulsory "biometric card" using a fingerprint scanner by Nov. 30.

The move is part of the government's latest effort to fight the oil-rich nation's chronic food shortages, which it claims result from hoarding by speculators who resell goods at a profit, and from smuggling into Colombia.

This will be the second time the government has introduced a fingerprint-based system to track and limit food purchases. Earlier this year, Venezuelans were encouraged to sign up voluntarily for a similar system to be used in government-run shops, promising to end scarcity of basic foodstuffs and ease the queues outside grocery stores.

On Monday, a National Guard tanker broke down the door of a residential complex and local press reported that troops fired tear gas while protesters hijacked a public transport vehicle.

The demonstrators also protested against a transport fare increase, insecurity, shortage and closure of the border with Colombia, a measure taken unilaterally by the government as part of what's called a war to food and fuel smuggling in the border area.

San Cristobal was the epicenter of the violent protests that rocked Venezuela and left at least 43 dead, nearly 800 injured and about 3,000 detainees. The demonstrations began in the city Feb. 4 and spread to several cities in the country claim to insecurity, high inflation and commodity shortages.

Smaller protests were also reported in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

Some opposition voices have said the biometric system will lead to food rationing similar to the Cuban ration card. The detractors also point out that this system has not remedied the scarcity crisis in the island.

The government denies this system will lead to rationing.

"Do not be manipulated by the right. The biometric system is not to restrict purchases, it is to catch smugglers," tweeted the vice president, Jorge Arreaza.

The system of fingerprint scanners "will be applied to identify those who play, steal and profit from the food of the people. We are going after the mafia!" said Arreaza.

Activists denounce tortures against imprisoned student

The student Gerardo Carrero, a prisoner in the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) headquarters in Caracas, has been tortured by prison officials, according to the information reported by the Venezuelan National Youth Organization in a press conference.

Gerardo Carrero's father, as well as a large group of young people denounced the abuses the student has allegedly suffered in the last hours.

"My son, Gerardo Carrero, was severely beaten for over 12 hours last Thursday, Aug. 21, by the director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, Carlos Calderon," he said Monday during a news conference.

He added he will take the case to the attorney general's office to demand the removal of the official.

Another student, Angel Sucre, said that Gerardo Carrero was punished in his cell.

"He was beaten with wooden boards while squatting and handcuffed in his cell," Sucre said. "He has a lot of bruising."

Carrero said that, although he could not see his son during the visit Sunday, those who were able to enter the prison testified as to his son's physical condition.

"They wrapped his wrists in newspaper so they didn't leave a mark," he explained. "In the morning, when the handcuffs were removed, he fell off the bars that supported him and could not stand."

Gerardo Carrero is one of close to 30 students who began a hunger strike in the jail protesting their detainment for protesting against the government.

"We condemn the government's mistreatment of the students for the simple act of thinking differently," said the student leader Juan Requesens during a news conference Tuesday.

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