Venezuela has deployed soldiers to almost 100 food markets in efforts to counter an “economic war” it says is being waged against it.
President Nicolás Maduro ordered the measure, arguing that sellers were charging over the odds for price-controlled items.
Venezuela has the highest inflation in the world and there are severe shortages of basic food items.
Many Venezuelans report going hungry as they struggle to feed themselves.
President Maduro blames international sanctions and “greedy businesspeople” for the shortages. His critics say it is his government’s policies and those of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who ruined the oil-rich country’s economy.
President Maduro says that “the take-over of the municipal markets has been a huge success”. Members of the army and of the National Guard patrolled food stalls across the country.
“A great number of mafiosi, wholesalers, thieves and capitalists have been arrested,” he said of the markets. “We found everything there, even prostitution.”
The minister for industry and production, Tarek El Aissami, said they had found “[price] speculation, hoarding and fraudulent price manipulation” at the markets.
Mr Aissami was recently named to the newly created post, which is part of President Maduro’s plan for a “rebirth” of the Venezuelan economy.
The new minister was placed under US sanctions last year after being declared a “Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker” by the US Treasury. He dismissed the allegations as an “imperialist aggression”.
President Maduro also announced a tripling of the minimum wage from 1m bolivares a month to 3m ($1.07 at the black market rate).
He also said that workers would receive 2.2m bolivares in meal tickets,
It is the fourth increase in the minimum wage this year and critics say the measure will drive up inflation even further.
Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly said the inflation rate had hit 24,600% in May. Venezuela’s Central Bank has not published any official figures since December 2015, nor has the government.
With more and more Venezuelans struggling to feed themselves, many are leaving the country.
The report estimates that 5,000 Venezuelans are leaving their homes every day.