Venezuela's armed forces will coordinate distribution of food and medicine as part of President Nicolas Maduro's efforts to control severe shortages of staple goods in the crisis-hit OPEC country, according to a new decree.
The decree, published on Tuesday, creates a new body called the Supply Command that will issue new regulations governing the purchase, sale and distribution of food, medicine, personal hygiene items and home cleaning products.
The body, headed by Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, will oversee government agencies that had regulated such activities.
It can force private businesses to sell their production to state entities.
Critics dismissed the plan as insufficient to resolve the country's economic problems including Soviet-style shortages, triple-digit inflation and heavy dependence on imports.
"(It) implies the use of the Armed Forces' operational capacity throughout the country...in ensuring national supply of strategic products to guarantee the right of all Venezuelans to nutrition and health," the decree said.
Mr Maduro issued the decree through economic emergency powers that allow him to pass legislation without the approval of Congress, which is controlled by the opposition following last year's sweeping victory in legislative elections.
Padrino on Tuesday appeared on state television as part of a presidential economic commission, saying the change was "a matter of discipline, not one of militarisation".
"I don't like militarisation, military intervention in non-military matters," he added.
A combination of low oil prices and a decaying socialist system of currency and price controls has left Venezuela with the world's highest inflation and a severe recession.
The president, a former bus driver, insists his government is the victim of an "economic war" led by political adversaries with the help of the United States.