Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Food Desperation in Venezuela

"Behind all this [acute food shortages] is the president, the rat in his palace, eating riches while we fight to buy pasta."
Maria Perez, 31, former Chavez supporter,  El Valle supermarket

"If you have a son who says, 'Mommy I want my bottle,' and you don't have milk to give him, in a moment like that you don't think of anything else and you grab everything you can for your family."                                                                      Anonymous woman 
People gather to try to buy pasta while riot police try to control the crowd outside a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, June 10, 2016.    Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
"If there is no food, there will be more riots."
Raibelis Henriquez, 19, Cumana, Venezuela

"They're saying [Maduro administration], in other words, you get food if you're my friend, if you're my sympathizer."
Roberto Bricefio-Leon, director, Venezuelan Violence Observatory

"During Carnival, we used to throw eggs at each other just to have some fun. Now an egg is like gold [in the extreme scarcity of food in Venezuela]."
Gabriel Marquz, 24, Cumana, Venezuela
Ines Rodriguez called to the crowd of people gathered in front of her restaurant, offering to voluntarily give them all the chicken and rice her restaurant had in its reserves. In exchange for their agreeing to leave the restaurant furniture and cash register intact. Her audience listened stonily, shoving her aside as they converged into the place where she earned her living. "It is the meeting of hunger and crime now", she said, describing her experience.

It is an experience that has become common throughout Venezuela. Delivery trucks, food markets, restaurants are all under constant attack. Food is now transported under armed guard, and soldiers are tasked to stand guard over bakeries. Rubber bullets are fired at hungry mobs prepared to storm grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. Hunger stalks Venezuela.

People march on supermarkets screaming their frustration and their hunger, looking for food. They force open metal gates and stream into the interior, grabbing anything, everything; water, potatoes, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, potatoes, whatever happens to be there. As they depart with their looted food, they leave smashed freezers and upturned shelves that rage has destroyed.

Hunger and desperation force people to act as they would otherwise never do. Even in a country where crime rates have soared in lock-step with corruption, shortages, and civil dysfunction. In this nation with the largest reserves of oil in the world, people are rioting because they are starving. Food riots, protests and mass looting erupt around the country.

Customers enter a bakery in Caracus, Venezuela, on June 10, a day after it was looted.Bakeries and grocery stores are being ransacked in growing food-related violence in recent weeks.
Customers enter a bakery in Caracus, Venezuela, on June 10, a day after it was looted. Bakeries and grocery stores are being ransacked in growing food-related violence in recent weeks.
Fernando Llano/AP

Shops have been destroyed as mobs have descended, stripping them and venting their anger. In the melee that results, five people have been killed. Hugo Chavez had been inspired to promise Venezuelans that his socialist revolution would ensure that the impoverished among the population would receive their rightful due. A deadly riot in 1989 that saw security forces kill hundreds of protesters clashing with authorities over subsidy cuts had motivated Chavez.

And his hand-picked successor President Nicolas Maduro is now overseeing a country whose failures far surpass those of that earlier era. A country in economic collapse has been left incapable of feeding its people. It cannot produce enough food on its own, and nor is it able to import the food required. An emergency decree from the president has placed cities under militarization. 

Now, 87 percent of Venezuelans claim they have no money to buy food to feed themselves and their families. A tradition of economic mismanagement by the administration has broken the food supply. Low oil prices haven't helped. The agricultural centre of the country hosts fallow sugar fields; there is no fertilizer. Machinery rusts in state-owned factories that no longer are in operation.

Corn and rice, staples which at one time were exported in their excess to needs, must now be imported. And what comes into the country is inadequate to meet the requirements of the populace. With the use of emergency decrees Maduro signed earlier, most food distribution has been entrusted to citizen brigades whose loyalty to his regime is unquestioned.

Daily power cuts mean that cities are not fully operational. In the heat of a Venezuelan summer, air conditioning is severely rationed. People whose medical conditions rely on appliances that operate on electricity see their illness deepening, like those dependent on dialysis machines. 

Those people who wait in orderly lines to enter a supermarket for food, eventually do so, only to discover that the only thing that is available is laundry detergent.

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