There is a very simple answer for that: the regime needs a scapegoat that pays with its hardcore, Luddite, take no hostage, resentful base. The question would be more interesting if worded differently: why does it pay to jail a few business owners?
The answer to this question is a little bit longer but not very complicated. The reason can be found in 40 years of populism light followed by 15 of populism hard. In a country that has been told that "we are rich" and that the problem is that "wealth is not redistributed as it should" you do create a sense of entitlement that can easily be turned against private enterprise. I remember as a kid how COPEI used the term acaparadeco in the 1973 campaign against Carlos Andres Perez first election. Acaparadeco is a play on words with acaparador (hoarder) and adeco (follower of AD political party). The message was clear, seedy business allied with Adecos to make the people suffer scarcities. As you can see, chavismo has invented NOTHING, just strung it out to the limit.
To this you must add that a lot in the business system of Venezuela were only in there for the money, amassing in a hurry what they could to run away to Miami or somewhere to live the grand life. That this pattern is repeated and magnified under chavismo with its bolibourgoeis, or that many business people are decent, socially conscious folks (the Polar people, to name one) does not matter. In the deep recesses of the hoi polloi mindset there is a certain like of the private enterprise as the lone reliable provider of jobs and goods but a deep resentment of the owners. That dissociation has always existed, with more or less intensity, and no government has ever tried to limit it as for populism such beliefs are a political godsend.
What differentiates chavismo from a past attitude that probably dates from colonial times is that as an extreme populist and commie inspired system the regime has a special vindictiveness against private enterprise owners and even more against those that make the regime look particularly bad or incompetent. The harassment of giant agribusiness Polar is a text book case, forcing Lorenzo Mendoza, its chairman, to challenge the regime to concede administration of its nationalized mills so he would put them to produce. Suddenly the regime stopped its attacks for a while but they are back at it.
The two recent public cases are the owners of Farmatodo and Dia a Dia. Both chains had managed to reach popular sectors and be successful there while the distribution of medicine and food through the state system of Mercal and PDVAL was failing more and more. Dia a Dia was a supermarket specializing in popular areas, small stores, no storage area to avoid crime. It had a limited and fast rotating inventory and was thoroughly monitored by the regime. Hence, that Dia a Dia provided reasonable service so close to the chavista electoral base was just too much. Dia a Dia had to go, its inventory seized and his managers sent to jail for gouging, speculation, hoarding and what not.
Farmatodo is not as clear cut a case as it does not go deep into popular areas. But it is close and it had become in a way the fancy store where lower middle class go to get a treat. Farmatodo was a first world experience in Venezuela, clean, neat, organized, usually well stacked. All social classes could shop there together getting from shampoo to medicine. Since there is major scarcity of shampoo, soap and other persona hygiene products, someone had to pay the political costs. Owners and management were summoned to a store on a week end. They complied freely and ended up in jail anyway. Never mind that a few weeks earlier Farmatodo had agreed to cooperate with the regime by putting organized rationing and finger printing machines per regime's wishes.
Since then things have not improved. I am privy to information that I cannot reveal because I cannot harm the parties, and I could place myself at risk. But I know of the people that have been arrested for questioning at their exit from Miraflores Palace after a meeting that they attended after summoning.
I know of a given minister, a particularly vulgar and uncouth general, who revels at these meetings at Miraflores threatening his "guests" of "ponerle los ganchos a la salida", arrest the guest at the door has he has already done. In these meetings the regime demands but offers no concession, no dollars to pay the debt, no price increase to stop the losses that food and medicine producers are forced to accept because of price control. But I also know that in some smaller meetings some of the business owners have challenged the military chair (it is almost invariably a military) to expropriate them once and for all, that they do not care but will start selling at whatever price they need to sell. And in at least one case I know of they did get a price increase, albeit insufficient.
I have also been told to pack an overnight bag and have a safe haven for a couple of nights if I need to do so. Now, even though I was told that in all seriousness I am not complying. First, even if associate in a food business we are low on the priorities of the regime at this time. Also, I am more likely to get arrested for this blog rather than any commercial activities. But I have been told and this by itself reflect the mood of the country as well as possible.
There is indeed an economic war waged, and I can guarantee that it has come from the regime and it is directed at defenseless people like my colleagues and me. We have no weapons and the judicial system is stacked against us from corrupt judges to regulations that these days cannot be met no matter how hard one tries. We are thus great fodder for the regime continued need for bread and circus. More circus these days...