Venezuelans Storm Supermarkets, Attack Food Trucks as Supplies Dwindle

A woman who had been standing in line outside a center in Caracas that certifies signatures for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro shouts slogans against Venezuela's government after learning that the center had closed, without attending to those still standing in line. (Alejandro Cegarra/For the Washington Post)
A woman who had been standing in line outside a center in Caracas that certifies signatures for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro shouts slogans against Venezuela’s government after learning that the center had closed, without attending to those still standing in line. (Alejandro Cegarra/For the Washington Post)

In the darkness the warehouse looks like any other, a metal-roofed hangar next to a clattering overpass, with homeless people sleeping nearby in the shadows.

But inside, workers quietly unload black plastic crates filled with merchandise so valuable that mobs have looted delivery vehicles, shot up the windshields of trucks and hurled a rock into one driver’s eye. Soldiers and police milling around the loading depots give this neighborhood the feel of a military garrison.

“It’s just cheese,” said Juan Urrea, a 29-year-old driver, as workers unloaded thousands of pounds of white Venezuelan queso from his delivery truck. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive.

“This is savagery,” said Pedro Zaraza, a car oil salesman, who watched a mob mass on Friday outside a supermarket, where it was eventually dispersed by the army. “The authorities are losing their grip.”

What has been a slow-motion crisis in Venezuela seems to be careening into a new, more dangerous phase. The long economic decline of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves now shows signs of morphing into a humanitarian emergency, with government mismanagement and low petroleum prices leading to widespread shortages and inflation that could surpass 700 percentthis year.

The political stakes are mounting. Exhausted by government-imposed power blackouts, spiraling crime, endless food lines, shortages of medicine and waves of looting and protest, citizens are mobilizing against their leaders. In recent days, Venezuelans lined up to add their names to a recall petition that aims to bring down the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, and put an end to the socialist-inspired “revolution” ignited 17 years ago by Hugo Chavez.

“This can’t continue,” said Angel Rondon, a mechanic, who now sometimes eats just once a day. “Things have to change.”

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SOURCE: Joshua Partlow and Mariana Zuñiga 
The Washington Post