In what’s being called an “apocalypse,” Venezuela is experiencing an economic and social meltdown due to lack of food, medicine, water, electricity and money.
With little recourse, many Venezuelans are turning to crime. Last week a mob of 5,000 looted a supermarket in Maracay, leaving two dead.
PanAm Post reports:
According to the testimonies of merchants, the endless food lines that Venezuelans have been enduring to do groceries could not be organized that day. As time went by, desperate Venezuelans grew anxious over not being able to buy food. Then they started jumping over the gates.
“They took milk, pasta, flour, oil, and milk powder. There were 5,000 people,” one witness told Venezuela outlet El Estímulo.
People from across the entire state came to the supermarket because there were rumors that some products not found anywhere else would be sold there.
“There were 250 people for each National Guard officer … lots of people and few soldiers. At least one officer was beat up because he tried to stop the crowd,” another source told El Estímulo.
In late April, the Venezuelan Chamber of Food warned producers had only 15 days of inventory.
Venezuela has imposed increasingly desperate measures on its citizens as the nation’s economic crisis has deepened. Although it is a large oil producer, last week the El Palito Refinery – which is the nation’s main fuel supplier – halted operations with under 10 days of inventory remaining. The stoppage is estimated to last 45 to 60 days, and the nation has very little gasoline available. Workers are reporting refineries are operating at 30 percent capacity.
Executive Secretary for the United Federation of Oil Workers Rober González told the newspaper La Verdad that Venezuelan refineries may have been sabotaged by some contractors and managers.
The economic crisis and consequent hyperinflation is causing cascading problems or shortages in many crucial sectors, including food, water, electricity, medicine, jobs and schooling.
May has been “officially” termed the month of hunger. PanAm Post reports Oscar Meza, Director of the Documentation Center for Social Analysis (Cendas-FVM), who said measurements of scarcity and inflation in May are going to be the worst to date.
“We are officially declaring May as the month that [widespread] hunger began in Venezuela,” he told Web Noticias Venezuela. “As for March, there was an increase in yearly prices due to inflation – a 582.9 percent increase for food, while the level of scarcity of basic products remains at 41.37 percent.”
Meza said the trigger for the crisis is the shortage of bread and other foods derived from wheat.
“Prices are so high that you can’t buy anything, so people don’t buy bread, they don’t buy flour. You get porridge, you see the price of chicken go up and families struggle … lunch is around 1,500 bolivars. … People used to take food from home to work, but now you can’t anymore because you don’t have food at home,” Meza said.
People are reportedly hunting cats, dogs and pigeons to obtain food.
Because of the scarcity of essential food and goods, the black market has flourished – as has crime.
In Caracas, a man accused of mugging people was surrounded by a mob, who beat him and set him on fire.
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Venezuela has developed few resources except oil.
PanAm Post reports:
Venezuela hardly produces anything domestically, besides petroleum (oil sales are 96 percent of the country’s import revenue). Price controls destroy the profit motive for domestic makers, who sometimes sell their products for a loss. And the ruling socialist government has taken, or expropriated, entire private companies.
“They expropriate the majority of the sugar companies, and you cannot find sugar,” Luis Vicente Leon said. “They expropriate coffee companies in Venezuela, and you cannot find coffee. They expropriate Owens-Illinois, and we cannot find packages.”
So Venezuela imports just about everything. But now there’s not enough oil revenue to buy imports.
Reuters notes the U.S. is increasingly concerned about Venezuela’s meltdown, compounded by its deteriorating oil sector and fears of a debt default, adding: “In a bleak assessment of Venezuela’s worsening crisis, the senior officials expressed doubt that unpopular leftist President Nicolás Maduro would allow a recall referendum this year, despite opposition-led protests demanding a vote to decide whether he stays in office. But the two officials, briefing a small group of reporters in Washington, predicted that Maduro, who heads Latin America’s most ardently anti-U.S. government and a major U.S. oil supplier, was not likely to be able to complete his term, which is due to end after elections in late 2018.”
The Venezuelan officials offered “plausible” scenarios, including a military coup to oust Maduro, or that his own party would force him out of office. The officials conceded there was no evidence of active plotting or loss of support from Venezuelan generals.
In turn, Maduro, 53, blasted Washington for a meeting “to conspire against Venezuela.”
“Washington is activating measures at the request of Venezuela’s fascist right, who are emboldened by the coup in Brazil,” he said during a televised broadcast in reference to last week’s impeachment of fellow leftist Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
Maduro then declared a 60-day state of emergency which included the “necessary measures” to protect Venezuela from unspecified foreign attacks.
The Venezuelan president affirmed he will not be forced out before the expiration of his term in 2019. He blames the opposition of seeking a coup to “destroy the socialist legacy of his predecessor,” the late Hugo Chavez.
Maduro has a history of concern, sometimes termed paranoia, over conspiracies to overthrow his régime.
“Cultivating a siege mentality among Venezuelans might make them more pliable,” writes Foreign Policy’s Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez, “minimizing the potential backlash from his regime’s increasingly authoritarian social controls, which have moved far beyond what was seen in the Chávez era in respect to censorship, political imprisonment, and even creeping limitations on internet use. After all, a government fighting for its very life against such implacable and powerful enemies can expect to receive the odd emergency power, as well as a bit of a pass on issues like soaring crime, scarcity and inflation. Caracas-born comic Joanna Hausmann sums up the mentality nicely: ‘Maduro’s elementary school excuse: A coup ate my homework.'”