CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has a new public enemy: beer trucks.
The Venezuelan leader said Tuesday he's fed up with seeing children carrying beer crates as trucks sell the alcohol directly on the streets of poor neighborhoods.
"It's the degeneration of society. It's one of the causes of public drunkenness in the slums," he said as he declared he was putting a ban on the beer runs.
"As of today, I want the National Guard to stop the beer trucks and take them to the nearest command post. No more trucks," he said in a televised speech in Carabobo state, west of Caracas.
Chavez's order apparently was aimed at trucks that sell beer directly on the streets of poor neighborhoods, rather than those delivering to liquor stores or other established businesses. Selling alcohol requires a license.
Although drinking alcohol in public areas is illegal, bottles of beer are often downed on street corners, and it's a preferred thirst-quencher at public rallies — including during some of Chavez's long-running speeches under the hot sun.
Light, fizzy Venezuelan brands like Polar and Solera are particularly popular here. And ads are ubiquitous, with enormous billboards showing voluptuous beauties pushing favored brands.
Chavez was speaking to participants in a state program aimed at helping alcoholics, homeless, street children, and the crowd had cheered him enthusiastically earlier in his speech. But his beer decree was met with a lukewarm response and scattered claps.
Chavez assured his audience he was not banning the consumption of alcohol like some countries in the Middle East.
But he said Venezuela has "reached the other extreme and trucks run around selling beer on the street and using children to carry the beer."
"This can't be allowed," he said.
He said he has told Justice Minister Jesse Chacon to take trucks off the street if their drivers are caught out of line.
"The government is doing what it has to do," Chavez said.