‘We want food!’ Looting and riots rock Venezuela daily
CARACAS—A young woman faints in the heat as hundreds fight for pasta, screaming they are hungry. Slum-dwellers and armed gangs wait for nightfall to hijack food trucks or ransack stores. A mother is shot dead fleeing police after hundreds storm warehouses.
Food riots and violent looting have become a daily occurrence across scarcitystruck Venezuela and a major problem for the struggling leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Despite hours in lines, Venezuelans increasingly find that coveted supplies of subsidized flour and rice run out before they can buy them. Many are skipping meals, getting by on mangoes stripped from trees - or taking matters into their own hands.
On a recent morning in the rundown, garbage-strewn Caracas district of El Valle, some 200 people pushed up against police guarding a supermarket as they chanted, “We want food!” and “Loot it!” A few at the front were allowed in for two bags of pasta each.
“We’re not eating. People are desperate for a looting,” saidmother-of-three Miza Colmenares, 55, who had spent the night in line and not eaten since the previous day when she had eggs for breakfast.
One young woman fainted in the heat, an elderly lady cried uncontrollably on the sidewalk and the seething crowd chased away a government supporter.
Supermarkets have become flashpoints across Venezuela, one of the world’s most violent countries.
More than 10 lootings occur every day now, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, and are increasing in the usually more insulated capital.
More than a quarter of the 641 protests last month were for food, according to a tally by the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, a figure that has risen every month this year.
Venezuela’s angry streets are arguably a bigger threat for Maduro than the political opposition, which is pushing to remove him via a recall referendum this year. One recent food protest came within blocks of the Miraflores presidential palace.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a government which prided itself on social welfare programs such as Cuban-staffed medical posts and subsidized supermarkets. It won elections time-and-time again thanks to devoted support from Venezuela’s poor.
But with their beloved former president, Hugo Chavez, dead for three years and the economy deteriorating rapidly, many former “Chavistas” have turned on Maduro. “Behind all this is the president, the rat in his palace, eating riches while we fight to buy pasta,” said homemaker Maria Perez, 31, once a Chavez supporter, at the El Valle supermarket.
Maduro accuses the opposition of hoarding food to stoke unrest, an argument convincing fewer and fewer people.
When Socialist Party community organizer Pedro Gonzalez, 58, told a Reuters reporter the unrest at El Valle was “orchestrated by the country’s opposition,” he was chased away by angry bystanders.
The opposition says the government’s distorted currency controls and crumbling state-led economic system are to blame.
“HOODED AND ARMED” For months now, groups have ransacked delivery trucks that crash or suffer flat tires. But in recent weeks, there has been an increase in frustrated shoppers storming supermarkets after food runs out as well as cases of communities or armed gangs organizing lootings, sometimes reportedly to re-sell the goods.
In the small roadside town of Tacuato in the remote Paraguana peninsula late last month, residents and delinquents frustrated after spending the night in line for no food decided to loot the next passing truck.— Reuters