Caracas – In just one week, at least four major episodes of looting have taken place in different parts of Venezuela, raising fears of a massive revolt in the country due to the acute food shortages, inflation and widespread discontent.
The worst episode occurred Friday in San Félix, a popular city in the southeastern state of Bolívar, where hundreds of people armed with stones attacked government buses and food markets on a main avenue.
Gustavo Patinez, a 21-year-old employee at one of the businesses, died after being shot in the chest, allegedly by the police. At least three stores were completely looted before the National Guard took control of the situation.
More than 60 people were arrested, according to Bolívar Gov. Francisco Rangel Gómez, a member of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV).
“This was a planned action,” Rangel Gomez on his Twitter account @RangelGomez.
The government claimed Friday’s looting was part of a political plot to weaken the country’s revolution — they blame the opposition and the United States.
“In February Gral. John Kelly (commander of United States Southern Command) predicted that July would be the month of social implosion in Venezuela,” President Nicolas Maduro said.
But Margarita López Maya, a professor at Universidad Central de Venezuela, said she doesn’t believe the government’s explanation.
“Even in the case that there were any external political actors trying to generate violence, they wouldn’t be successful if people were happy,” she told Fox News Latino.
“The discontent is what is causing these spontaneous and social reactions,” she added.
The looting continued on Tuesday, albeit not as violent, in a supermarket in Palo Verde, a popular section of Caracas, and in Carabobo, west of Caracas.
A few days earlier, on Thursday, in the eastern state of Monagas, a group of people attacked two government trucks that were delivering food to a state-owned market.
“People react like this because of the economic crisis,” López Maya told FNL. “The shortage had gotten worst and the high inflation reduces the family income. The government is not guaranteeing food supply and security.”
According to Hinterlaces, a local polling firm, Bolívar is the state where food shortages are worst. The absence of chicken and milk, they say, are generating the most rage.
Many Venezuelans liken the lootings to “El Caracazo,” a four-day riot in February 1989 in which hundreds were killed around the country, many of them in Caracas.
“The social discontent is very similar. Back then the shortage and the inflation were also serious,” Lopez noted. “The main difference is that now the government is controlling media really strongly and they have the military prepared to contain any violence outbreak quickly.”
In 1989 the looting spread as it got widespread attention. Authorities were slow to react.
In an effort to reduce discontent, three weeks ago the government eliminated a restriction implemented earlier in the year which allowed Venezuelans to buy food in the state-owned markets only certain days of the week, depending on the last digits of a person’s national ID number.
But apparently this only made the situation worse.
“Now more people come to the stores each day and the situation is uncontrollable,” said Jorge Luis Lastra, head of the Union of Public Stores Workers.
“Yesterday two employees were injured in Caracas,” he said. “One was hurt in his arm while he tried to secure the entrance to the market store and the other, a cashier, was hit in the face with a package of arepa flour after she told a buyer that he couldn’t buy the quantity he wanted.”
And even when they don’t succeed, Venezuelans seemingly are making it habit to attempt break-ins at state-owned supermarkets – the private markets are not nearly as well stocked. Over this past weekend there were at least two incidents of attempted looting, one in Bolivar and the other in Puerto La Cruz, also in the eastern part of the country.
“The National Guard tries to secure the stores, but there are not enough officers. We need more protection and the reactivation of buying restrictions by ID number,” Lastra added.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.