By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- A food line for subsidized, government-provided food bags became an anti-Maduro protest in Caracas, while food and other goods were also looted from a shop and a freight truck in El Tigre, Eastern Venezuela, as the humanitarian crisis in the oil rich country worsens with a new threat of a foreign debt default becoming clear and present.
While Venezuela is a notoriously violent country, Monday’s events were the most severe developments since the appointment of the Constituent Assembly in early August, a supra-Constitutional body which the opposition, the U.S. and most other countries in the world say was fraudulently constituted after three months of deadly anti-Maduro protests which left 163 demonstrators and security forces dead.
And not only does Venezuela have one of the highest murder rates in the planet, it also has the world’s highest inflation rate and one of the lowest minimum monthly wages at below $11. That means, the news and analysis website “Aporrea” reported, that even after five wage hikes this year alone, a worker that makes the basic wage cannot buy a tin of tuna everyday, much less feed his family.
Matters look to become worse fast, as embattled head of state Nicolas Maduro said last week he was seeking to "restructure" Venezuela’s large foreign debt, estimated at between $150 to $200 billion, an announcement financial markets are interpreting as a default notice, with some Venezuelan debt bonds now trading at 25 cents on the U.S. dollar.
In El Tigre, a band of 200 looters attacked a truck offloading rice sacks and made off with 3.6 tons before police could effectively stop them, national newspaper El Nacional reported.
Local social-conflict NGO “Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social” says looting has become much more common since Nicolas Maduro was elected President in 2013.
Another NGO, “Paz Activa” reported that looting food trucks has become a specialized crime in Venezuela, with organized bands that focus solely and specialize in that particular crime.
Police tried to lock down El Tigre and most commerce closed after the rice looting, but still the mob spread and the looting spilled into a shopping district in the Simon Rodriguez municipality, where police couldn’t prevent a store from being ransacked. No deaths were recorded, even as looters resisted the police violently, throwing stones before getting away with the stolen goods. Six alleged looters were arrested.
Meanwhile in Caracas, mere blocks from the Miraflores Presidential Palace, shoppers for the CLAP box of subsidized foodstuffs also grew angry Monday and shut down the Fuerzas Armadas avenue for several hours, wreaking havoc on traffic. Almost every bodega and supermarket in the area around Miraflores has been to some extent intervened by “colectivos”, pro-Maduro armed gangs, ranging from simple extortion to downright expropriations of the venue.