Venezuelans resort to looting as food shortages hit crisis point

May 27th, 2016  |  Source:

On one side, under the burning midday sun of Maracay in north-central Venezuela, hundreds of angry people have been waiting in line since 4am to buy food. On the other side, a group of military men guard the gate of a supermarket. The high-noon showdown is tense.

“There is nothing left to sell. If you really wanted to buy food, you should have started queueing at two in the morning,” yells one of the military men. “That is the people’s food,” an angry mother of four retorts. “People are losing patience . . . we are all tired.”

Snaking queues for scarce staples are a common sight across Venezuela and looting is becoming routine. This poses the biggest risk to Nicolás Maduro, the socialist president.

“The situation is very, very critical,” says Marianella Herrera, a professor of food and nutritional public policy at the Central University of Venezuela, who also runs Fundación Bengoa, a watchdog dealing with issues around nutrition. “The anguish when it comes to acquiring food is gigantic and generates violence.”

Only days before the supermarket showdown, hundreds of people had broken into the wholesale market next door, which had been guarded by paratroopers in red berets. Eyewitnesses say there was a “stampede”, with people rushing to get their hands on packs of rice, sugar and cornmeal flour.

“[It is] written in the Bible, people will kill each other for food,” the voice of a woman can be heard on an amateur video of the looting. To some, like Marcial Salazar, who sells vegetables at the market, the situation is understandable: “People are hungry for food, and hungry for having someone good in power.”

Mr Salazar opens the fridge at his household of six to the Financial Times. Its only contents are a handful of mangoes picked from a nearby tree and plastic bottles filled with tap water. Next to it, a bucket contains half a kilogramme of black beans, half a kilogramme of dried pasta and one kilogramme of maize flour: “That’s all for the week.”

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