Hugo Chavez is rounding up small-business owners and blaming them for the nation's inflation problems:

You could call Omar Cedeño many things: a class traitor; a tool of international capitalism; a criminal suspect; even an enemy of Hugo Chávez's socialist revolution. You could also call Cedeño, who sells meat from a cramped shop, a butcher.

He has been a fixture in the Candelaria district of Caracas, Venezuela's capital, for 20 years, flapping in and out of his shop in a grubby white coat, arranging cuts of beef, pork and chicken in a display case, joshing customers.

There are fewer jokes these days. Military police recently seized Cedeño and dozens of other butchers on suspicion of overpricing. Cedeño was handcuffed, stripped, interrogated at an army base and charged with speculation. If convicted he faces up to six years in jail.

Cedeño's alleged crime: selling beef for £4 a kilo, well above the regulated price of £2.58. He does not deny it — prices are marked on a white board behind the counter. "I've got to cover my costs. What business doesn't? Yet eight officials came here to arrest me. It's an abuse of power."

Economists say Venezuela's food prices are increasing due to "a misguided policy mix of rampant spending and price and foreign exchange controls that has resulted in a growing output gap and galloping inflation."

Chavez's explanation for increasing food prices: "Because they are thieves, stealing from the people. Don't let them trick you."

Chavez faces an election in September.