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Venezuelans angered by inflation report delay

CARACAS, Venezuela -- There's one burning question among economists in Venezuela these days: What happened to the November inflation report?

It's been more than two weeks since the deadline passed for the central bank to publish its closely watched consumer price index and so far authorities have been mum about when it will be released.

Economists and opposition politicians say the delay is a sign the government is trying to hide its embarrassing record controlling inflation, now running at 54 percent, after President Nicolas Maduro last month delivered a rare rebuke of the way the bank measures prices. They warn of more interference to come, undermining an institution that until now has been a redoubt of balance and credibility amid a decade-long socialist push that has divided Venezuelans.

“The most extreme way of manipulating the data is not publishing it,” Victor Olivo, a former manager of macroeconomics analysis at the central bank, told The Associated Press.

The central bank's bylaws require it to publish inflation data within the first 10 days of each month. On the rare occasions when it has missed the cutoff date before, it was late by only a few days.

Intrigue about the delay began to build after the bank abruptly cancelled a Dec. 19 news conference to release the report.

To date, nobody has offered an explanation, even in the face of a public letter of protest signed by 20 recognized local economists. The bank declined to comment when contacted by the AP.

The only official who has defended the bank, Elias Eljuri, president of the national statistics institute, said the delay is due to “atypical” factors stemming from the government's slashing of prices of home appliances last month after it seized several retail chains accused of charging speculative prices.

Under no circumstances are the numbers being cooked, he said.

Maduro last month questioned the reliability of the central bank's data, saying that internal calculations he had seen showed prices fell 5 percent in November as a result of the government's actions.

Are the statisticians at the bank able to “see what's happening beyond the technocracy?” Maduro asked in a nationally televised Cabinet meeting on Nov. 23.

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