Continuous food shortages in Venezuela have led to increasingly frequent and often violent public raids on stores, restaurants, bakeries, and even food delivery trucks as the country and its citizens struggle with a deepening economic and political crisis.
Venezuelan monitoring group the Observatory of Social Conflict, or Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS), has recorded an average 10 violent acts per day during the month of June, often in the form of looting and rioting for food. At least five people have been killed, including a four-year-old girl caught in the crossfire of two street gangs who were battling for supplies.
Venezuela’s socialist government under President Nicolas Maduro has been crippled by a severe shortage of food, medical, and energy supplies due to the falling price of oil — Venezuela’s chief export and principal source of national income. Last month, the government instituted a new food system to control pricing and distribution of some 70% of all products, which has only resulted in greater unrest.
Basic staples like bread, rice, and corn are in short supply, and many Venezuelans are going hungry, some only able to find or afford one meal per day. At the same time, however, many of the looters may be acting out of anger or frustration with the way Maduro’s regime has failed to handle the escalating situation.
“People are angry because it’s not easy to find food and they want the government to solve the problem,” Marco Antonio Ponce, head of OVCS, told Fox News Latino. Over 400 people were arrested in the coastal city of Cumana earlier this month after 20 local stores were raided.
President Maduro, who has recently come under fire from international organizations for violating basic democratic principles, imprisoning political opposition leaders, and blocking a referendum movement for a recall election, suggested the riots were part of an insurgent conspiracy. “They paid a group of criminals, brought them in trucks,” he said after the arrests in Cumana. “There is a criminal plan behind all this. Some of the arrested are linked to [opposition political parties] Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular.”
Ponce of OVCS disagrees. “Protests and lootings are scattered and uncoordinated. The government is just trying to criminalize people to have an excuse to suppress all these demonstrations,” he said.
The violence and discord has spilled over from cities to rural roads, where drivers of food supply trucks are often accompanied by armed guards to protect them from potential raids. While one in five trucking accidents occur due to driver fatigue, the roads connecting Venezuela’s major cities are scattered with a much more dangerous threat: hungry people desperate to feed their families.
While Venezuela’s heavy reliance on oil trading is often cited as the root cause of the economic crisis, an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States earlier this week did not hesitate to redirect blame internally.
“These challenges cannot be blamed on external forces,” said regional OAS head Luis Almagro. “The situation facing Venezuela today is the direct result of the actions of those currently in power. Venezuela should be one of the most prosperous and influential countries in the region. Instead, it is a state mired in corruption, poverty and violence. It is the population who suffers the consequences.”