Usury: hard to define, but we know it when we see it


ban_usuryPity poor José Gregorio Fernández.

Before a few days ago, nobody knew who he was. Now, he is one of the token prisoners in the government’s war against business.

You see, the former manager of JVG, a home appliances store in eastern Caracas, is being charged with “usury,” basically charging too much for his products.

The charges are being filed under Article 144 of the Law for the Defense of People in the Access to Goods and Services (sic!). The article defines usury as follows:

“Article 144: Those who through an agreement or a contract, whichever way is used to leave a record of the operation, hide it, or diminish it, obtains for themselves or for a third party, directly or indirectly, a provision of a service that implies a notoriously disproportionate advantage with regards to what the other party is providing, will be guilty of usury, and will pay a prison fine of one to three years. The same sentence will apply to whomever earns interest, commissions or service fees in a credit or financing operation at rates above those set by the Central Bank of Venezuela.” (sic!)

Basically, the article says you can go to jail if you earn too much money. How much money? Well, it doesn’t really say.

(Fun aside: notice how it says “directly or indirectly.” So if, through my acts, somebody engages in usury, I’m guilty. Buhoneros selling Blogging the Revolution in downtown Caracas at $100 a pop? I’m going to jail!)

Keep in mind that this law is one of those “shackles” that Mr. Maduro thinks he needs to do away with in order to fight some ficticious “economic war.”

Because, as you can clearly tell, the law is so restrictive, it leaves the government with no tools whatsoever to attack the horrible, medieval crime of usury.

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  1. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am truly aghast. Both for the fact that they obviously don’t even know what “Usury” means and for the gall to revive a biblical era “crime”. Why don’t they just go ahead and include Heresy, Sorcery, Sodomy, Polygamy, Blasphemy, and Apostasy?

  2. Since there is no law in Venezuela, I know the following remark is irrelevant, but in a society based on laws, that section refers to “the provision of a service” on notoriously unfair terms. Leaving aside the vague “notoriety” standard, a “service” is not the same as a “good”.

    I don’t think that the law, properly interpreted, says anything at all about the sale of consumer goods.

  3. I thought usury meant charging abusive interests on a loan. At least when the bible condemns usury that’s what they’re refering to.

    The way they use it is more like price gouging.

    • Yes, I thought usury was the charging of interest on loans, which was an offense in the middle ages (under Catholic doctrine? I am not sure about that).

      In any event, not surprising to learn that Madurismo has defined a term so broadly as to including almost anything except activities falling within the commonly held definition of the term. What’s next, “assault” as communicating about the beating of one person by another person, but not including the actual beating of one person by another person…

      • The term “usury” literally means charging interest for loaning money. This practice was made a “crime” by Christianity, based upon the various passages in the Bible. During the Middle Ages, because of the prohibition against Christians charging interest, the need for this business was filled by some Jews, whose religion did not prohibit usury. Unfortunately, this led to some of the characterization of Jews and some of the causes of the various depredations of Jews in the last two centuries.

        In recent times, the term has expanded to mean the charging of excessive interest, “18%? Why, that is usury!”

        • The condemnation of usury really comes from Aristotle who thought it unnatural that money could beget money , to him only live or natural things ( animal herds, planted crops) could be fecund and procreate themselves This aristotelian view of things was adopted by the church in ancient times and made part of christian tradition .Aristotle imagined sandals procreating themselves and was repulsed !!. The notion of a just price was very much a concern of medioeval philosopy. Contrast that with Rockefellers definition of the right price of a good as “whatever price it can fetch” . Understand that in the past comparisons where made between the expected profit margins of businesses in Venezuela and in the US with the result that Venezuelan profit margins grossly exceeded those in the US.

  4. Ya me imagino al Madburro en un discurso: en la IV a la usuria se le homenajeaba dandole su nombre hasta a pueblos ‘mesmos’ por eso hoy decreto que inmediatamente se le cambie el nomre a Carmen de Usuria! Que a partier de hoy se llamara -ok I need help here se me acabo la inspiracion-……

  5. I wonder if the margin of benefit Pdvsa obtains from the sale export of oil can be characterized as usurious as the term is defined by the above law . If you condone huge benefits as just if practiced at an international level and as unfair and criminal if practiced at the domestic level , then you dont have a coherent notion of what usury is !!

  6. The link to will clear up whether “making excesive profit” is an option for ‘usura’: it is, at meaning #4, surprisingly enough. But the poor fella would surely never have delved that far and, given the hanky-panky behind it all, wouldn’t have stumbled on it were he so to have done.

  7. SO if you go to a restaurant…and you think the prices are too much, can well call indepabis and from the chef, the waiter, etc, everyone is going to jail, am I right?

    • Depends… are the chef, waiter, etc. loyal Chavistas? Do they treat the Chavista officials with the deference they deserve? Does the Owner contribute to the PSUV? If so, probably not. This is all very subjective, so it is up to the local Chavista aristocracy to decide. There is no legal recourse, of course, so you are just going to have to go along with it.

  8. Just a question… Where are they going to put all these new prisoners? The jails are already full, remember?

    How long will it be before someone suggests “Work Camps”?

  9. Is Venezuela in a state of emergency? Numerous other jurisdictions have statutory authorities in emergency situations to fix prices for necessary goods, services and resources and prohibit charging unconscionable prices in respect of necessary goods, services and resources. If there are in an SoE? Why? If they are not… the omission is not consistent with the appropriate public administration responses to ‘imperialist sabotage’ and ‘economic war’.

  10. The govt doesnt have the people, the criteria or the technocratic organization to set the prices of the vast array of goods and services sold every day in Venezuela , they can only set arbitrary standards and then penalize whoever they want, in order to play ‘the peoples noble defender’. What do you do for instance with contingencies , a necessary part of any cost structure?? ., how do you account for delays and blunders by govt bodies and how they affect the production processes and costs? . Its a futile and impossible task. Theyve taken on an impossible burden and their failure will make the sattisfaction of venezuelan consumption demands something impossible to achieve. !! Typical of chavista mentality to transform everything into theatre , into play acting , into grand drama , and convince themselves that thus they are dealing with real problems …what farce!!. .

  11. Juan, you wouldn’t go to jail if a buhonero sold your book for $1,000. You’re not obtaining anything yourself, nor are you a third party benefitting from anything. And the directly/indirectly applies to the means of how you obtained it, but again, you didn’t obtain anything. (Daka may sell Toshiba TVs for an inordinate amount of money, but Toshiba isn’t guilty here).

    Note that I’m of course assuming that the buhonero is simply pocketing most of those $1,000, not giving them to you (why would he do that?).. I’m also assuming that the judge handling your case would be somewhat rational and adhere to the law, which is of course an unsafe assumption.

    So I guess you would go to jail, not because of the law but because of the system.

  12. If filling a tank of gas for $1.50 doesn’t give you “a notoriously disproportionate advantage with regards to what PDVSA is providing” I have no idea what does. Conclusion: every person who has filled up a gas tank in the last 15 years is guilty of usury vis-a-vis the state.


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