Chavez targets alcohol, smoking in Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez says he wants Venezuelans to stop drinking so much alcohol, and he has ordered the military to crack down on businesses selling beer on the streets or after legal hours.

Caracas: President Hugo Chavez says he wants Venezuelans to stop drinking so much alcohol, and he has ordered the military to crack down on businesses selling beer on the streets or after legal hours.

Chavez said his government is considering raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Venezuelans` taste for beer and Scotch whisky is an irritation to the leftist president, and he raised liquor and cigarette taxes three years ago while calling for similar measures -- to little effect.

"Armed forces: Any truck that goes around selling beer in the barrios, they must be caught," Chavez said in a televised speech Thursday night. "And not only trucks. There are liquor stores open at any hour where people can go and buy liquor. What is that?"

"Is this a brothel or something? Venezuela is no brothel!" Chavez said.

Chavez says he is leading the country toward socialism and the transition requires a moral crusade to change Venezuelans` values.

He has long been concerned that too many people swill beer on street corners, and has denounced cases in which trucks have sold beer in some slums. It`s common for unlicensed vendors to sell beer or liquor from their homes or informal neighbourhood stores.

Some Venezuelans took issue with the President and repeated a lighthearted message on Twitter echoing Chavez`s calls of "Socialist fatherland or death" but instead proclaiming: "booze, alcoholism, or death -- we will drink."

Chavez has also recently used the issue in his criticisms of the country`s largest food producer, Empresas Polar, which sells the country`s leading brand of beer, Polar.

Chavez has ordered the expropriation of some of Polar`s warehouses, and has warned he could decide to take over more of the company. If the government did take over the Polar brewery, it would be shut down, Chavez has warned.

Addressing Polar`s president, Lorenzo Mendoza, during Thursday`s speech, Chavez said: "I don`t know what you`re going to do ... with your little Polar." He used the term "Polarcita," which Venezuelans often use for the small beer bottles that are popular in the country.

Chavez said he`s not being prudish about booze, but that "everything has its limits, and they`ve been lost here."

Bureau Report

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