Jan 17, 2018 – A wave of looting by hungry mobs across Venezuela has left streets of shuttered shops in provincial towns and pushed some store owners to arm themselves with guns and machetes. Lootings in Caracas and other parts of Venezuela flared up on Tuesday after police slaughtered an anti-Maduro armed group on Monday.
Worsening food shortages and runaway inflation have unleashed the spate of pillaging since Christmas in the South American country, in which seven people have reportedly died.
The unrest was sparked by shortages of pork for traditional holiday meals, despite socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s promise of subsidized meat to alleviate shortages.
Looters have ransacked trucks, supermarkets and liquor stores across the nation of 30 million people, which ranks as one of the most violent in the world.
The plunder is heaping more pain on battered businesses, raising questions about how much longer they can survive. Venezuela, once one of Latin America’s richest countries, is suffering a fifth straight year of recession and the world’s highest inflation rate, which the opposition-run Congress says topped 2,600 percent last year.
In the first 11 days of January alone, some 107 lootings or attempted lootings have taken place, according to the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, a rights group.
In one of the most dramatic incidents, a mob slaughtered cattle grazing in a field in the mountainous western state of Merida.
Shopkeepers have lost faith in the government to protect them and have armed themselves with sticks, knives, machetes, and firearms to defend themselves and their assets.
More than two-thirds of stores in a small town near the Colombian border were shut. Shopkeepers pull security overnight in their stores and communicate to each other via chat apps like WhatsApp and coordinate shifts amongst each other.
Garbage fills the streets and few cars circulate, though buses crammed with people crisscross town looking for places to buy food.
Government critics say Maduro’s refusal to reform the OPEC nation’s floundering economy is to blame for the chaotic fight for survival in the country home to the world’s largest crude reserves.
With a presidential election looming this year, Maduro retorts that Venezuela’s oil-reliant economy is under attack by U.S.-backed saboteurs seeking to stoke conflict and discredit socialism in Latin America.
The unrest has also stoked fears Venezuelan society could unravel as chaos sets in, fuelling mass emigration to nearby South American countries or a full-blown social explosion at home.
In an effort to curb voter anger over inflation, the government agency tasked with ensuring “fair prices” ordered some 200 supermarkets to slash their rates this month, triggering frenetic buying.
Roadside lootings have also scared truck drivers, disrupting the food distribution chain that is traditionally slower anyway in January because of holidays.