‘We Loot or We Die of Hunger’: Food Shortages Fuel Unrest in Venezuela

A supermarket with its security shutters partially closed as a precaution against looting in San Cristóbal. (Photograph: Carlos Eduardo Ramírez/Reuters)
A supermarket with its security shutters partially closed as a precaution against looting in San Cristóbal. (Photograph: Carlos Eduardo Ramírez/Reuters)

Amid desperate food shortages Venezuelans are picking up new survival skills.

On the night of 9 January, for example, a hungry mob took just 30 minutes to pick clean a grocery store in the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz. By the time owner Luis Felipe Anatael arrived at the bodega he’d opened five months earlier, the looters had hauled away everything from cold cuts to ketchup to the cash registers.

“It makes you want to cry,” said Anatael in a telephone interview. “I think we are headed for chaos.”

Evidence for his prediction can be found in towns and cities across Venezuela that have been hit by an outbreak of looting and mob violence. Angry about empty supermarket shelves and soaring prices, some people are breaking into warehouses, ransacking food trucks and invading outlying farms.

During the first 11 days of January the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, a Caracas rights group, recorded 107 episodes of looting and several deaths in 19 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

But the figures don’t fully capture the level of desperation. Recent headlines from Venezuela read like notes from the apocalypse:

  • On Margarita Island dozens of people waded into the ocean and forced their way aboard a fishing boat, making off with its catch of sardines
  • In the city of Maracay, just west of Caracas, thieves broke into a veterinary school, stole two pregnant thoroughbred horses and slaughtered them for meat.
  • A recent video from the western state of Mérida shows a group of people cornering a cow before stoning it to death as bystanders yell: “The people are hungry!”

There have been previous incidents of looting but analysts fear that the current wave could linger amid the Venezuela’s economic freefall.

President Nicolás Maduro blames the country’s woes on an “economic war” against his government by rightwingers and foreign interests.

But his critics say his government has disrupted domestic food production by expropriating farms and factories. Meanwhile, price controls designed to make food more widely available to poorer people have had the opposite effect: many prices have been set below the cost of production, forcing food producers out of business.

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SOURCE: John Otis
The Guardian

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