By Ana Campoy
Venezuelans are starving, and they are tired of waiting in line.
In a revolt against president Nicolás Maduro’s flailing government, they are increasingly turning to rioting and looting to feed themselves. In the city of Cumaná they raided more than 100 supermarkets (link in Spanish) and other food stores last week. Hundreds were arrested; one died.
The situation is desperate. Price controls combined with the scarcity of goods have resulted in skyrocketing inflation. At current prices, it would take more than 20 times the minimum wage (Spanish) to buy basic foodstuffs for a family of five, according to the research arm of a teacher’s union. Nearly 90% of the population can’t afford to buy enough food, according to a living-standards assessment by Simón Bolivar University. Even those with money can’t find basic products amid empty supermarket shelves
A door-to-door distribution system set up by Maduro earlier this year to prevent goods from entering the black market has only increased frustration. Run by political allies, it is being seen by many as a government tool (Spanish) to benefit supporters.
Venezuela’s food woes are adding to a wave of violence and crime, energy shortages, and the grinding down of the country’s economic activity. More than 70,000 Venezuelans lined up on Monday (June 20), to validate their signatures calling for a referendum to remove Maduro as president. They have until Friday to prove that at least 200,000 people back the referendum. The original petition was signed by close to two million people.
Pressure for a Maduro ouster is also growing abroad. Members of the Organization of American States, world’s oldest regional body, meet this week for talks that could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the group. The secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, has accused Venezuela of breaching the group’s commitment to democracy. Last week, US state secretary John Kerry backed the referendum to recall Maduro, even as the two countries held high-level talks to solve their diplomatic differences.
Mauro has said that referendum is part of an international plot to oust him. He blames food shortages on an “economic war” (Spanish) waged by the country’s elites.
But some Venezuelans can’t help to notice that Maduro’s girth is looking a lot thicker than theirs these days. That can’t bode well for his regime.