Venezuela looters target chicken, flour amid worsening shortages

San Cristobal, May 14

Mobs in Venezuela have stolen flour, chicken and even underwear this week as looting increases across the crisis-hit OPEC nation where many basic products have run short.

Many people now get up in the dead of night to spend hours in long lines in front of supermarkets. But as more end up empty-handed and black market prices soar, plundering is rising in Venezuela, already one of the world’s most violent countries.

There is no official data, but rights group Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict reported 107 episodes of looting or attempted looting in first quarter. Videos of crowds breaking into shops, swarming onto trucks or fighting over products frequently make the rounds on social media, though footage is often hard to confirm.

In one latest incident, several hundred people looted a truck carrying kitchen rolls, salt and shampoo after it crashed and some of its load tumbled out in volatile Tachira state on Thursday, as per a local official and witnesses. Fifteen people were injured, including six security officials trying to restrain the crowd, said Luis Castrillon, a civil protection official.

“There was a big scuffle ... There were shots in the air and they fired tear gas,” said witness Manuel Cardenas, 40.

Such scenes are adding to an increasingly dire panorama in the South American oil exporter, where inflation is the highest in the world, the economy has been shrinking since early 2014, and there are frequent power and water cuts.

President Nicolas Maduro blames the crisis on the fall in global oil prices, a drought that has hit hydroelectric power generation and an ‘economic war’ by right-wing businessmen and politicians.

But opposition say he and his predecessor Hugo Chavez are to blame for disastrous statist economic policies. They are pushing for a recall referendum this year to remove Maduro, 53, and trigger a new election.

In other looting incidents this week, a group of hooded motor bikers tried, also on Thursday, to steal some 650 sacks of flour as they were being delivered to a deposit in the nearby Andean state of Merida.

Security forces managed to stop theft, but two National Guards and four policemen were injured in the melee, as per a local security official.

On Wednesday, looters in Merida broke into a supermarket, stealing food, shelves and even doors after learning chicken was being stored there. An underwear store was plundered a day earlier in the same state.

Socialist Party officials have condemned the looters as criminals seeking to make a quick buck from re-selling. Maduro has vowed a tough hand against violence and warned his enemies are plotting a ‘coup’ akin to this week’s suspension of Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff.

Maduro extends economic emergency

CARACAS: Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro declared a three-month state of emergency late Friday to face ‘threats from abroad’, as his emboldened foes geared for a vote to oust him. In an address to the nation, Maduro said he had signed a new state of emergency decree ‘to neutralise and defeat foreign aggression’, which he says is closing in on the country. Maduro said the measures will likely last through 2017, but he did not specify if they will limit civil rights. The announcement, made with his full Cabinet at his side, broadens the scope of an economic emergency decree in effect since January that was set to expire today. The new decree, he said, is ‘a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people’, which ‘guarantees peace, guarantees stability, that will allow us ... to recover country’s productive capacity’. It will be extended ‘constitutionally’ and last for the rest of the year ‘and likely throughout the year 2017’, he said.