The government said it was taking over the shop for 90 days, turning control over to a pro-government neighborhood committee given the task of distributing bags of staples door-to-door.
“This group of scoundrels arrived and kicked me out,” the 52-year-old Dos Santos said, adding that he feared for his life recalling the violent way he was expelled from the store where he started off as a lowly sales clerk and which he now manages. “One grabbed from me the store’s keys and said ‘Get out of here.'”
Within hours of the takeover, new young, dreadlocked and tattooed shopkeepers took down the Mansion’s Bakery sign outside and hung up photos of President Nicolas Maduro, the late leader Hugo Chavez and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar. Many of them danced behind the counters to salsa music.
The only thing missing was the bread, at least when The Associated Press visited the newly renamed “Minka” bakery Friday afternoon, when the day’s supply had already run out.
“What the government is doing doesn’t solve the problems,” said Milagros Cabrera, a 57-year-old retiree who for more than 20 years has been visiting the bakery just two blocks from the presidential palace. Now she said she has to walk several miles (kilometers) from her home to pick her daily “canilla,” a fast-fermenting, savory baguette introduced by European bread makers at the height of Venezuela’s mid-20th century immigrant boom that has become a beloved staple of the local diet.
The goal of what Maduro has taken to calling the “bread war” is to enforce price controls that have become increasingly unwieldy amid triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages. As part of spot checks targeting some 700 bakeries, authorities even announced the arrest of two people for illegally making brownies.
To earn a profit amid spiraling costs, many business owners try to reduce to a minimum what they sell under a 2014 decree setting prices for many basic goods.