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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the creation of a fingerprinting system in stores that sell food to limit smuggling of subsidized staple products to neighbouring countries.
The system, announced late on Wednesday, is meant to ease chronic shortages of consumer products ranging from cooking oil to toilet paper by preventing shoppers from buying large quantities of the same goods.
"(We will) create a biometric system ... in all distribution and retail systems, public and private," Maduro said during a televised broadcast in which he also created several anti-contraband commissions.
He did not say if the system would be set up in the entire country or only in border states.
Price controls and heavy subsidies allow Venezuelans to buy groceries, drive them across the border to Colombia, and resell them for a handsome profit. They have also created black markets within Venezuela in which informal vendors resell scarce products at a steep markup.
The measure extends a previous system, created earlier this year, to limit purchases at state-run supermarkets through fingerprint machines and a "Secure Food Supply" shoppers' card, decried by critics as a Cuban-style rationing policy.
Venezuela last week announced it was closing the border with Colombia to prevent smuggling of food and gasoline. The country's enormous fuel subsidy lets drivers buy more than 200 gallons of gasoline for the equivalent of one U.S. dollar.
Maduro says product shortages, which create long lines and at times leave store shelves bare, are driven by smuggling that diverts at least 40 percent of food and medicine to other countries.
Critics insist the shortages are a sign that the socialist policies created by the late Hugo Chavez are failing.
(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)