Socialist Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is blaming a United States conspiracy for a supermarket riot over the weekend that left one 21-year-old man dead–a man witnesses say was shot to death by Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard.
A mob attacked a supermarket warehouse in San Félix, Bolívar, on Friday, attempting to tear down the walls of a warehouse and acquire basic food items, such as milk and flour. Video shows a crowd of dozens organizing in front of the building and attempting to break through, with Bolivarian National Guard troops attempting to violently disperse the crowd. When police finally managed to subdue the crowd, 60 people were arrested, and 21-year-old Gustavo Patinez Gómez was dead of a gunshot wound to the chest.
The Venezuelan government has prohibited the use of mobile devices in supermarkets, following a wave of social media coverage of how empty most Venezuelan supermarkets are, boasting an abundance of snacks and cookies but no vegetable oil, laundry detergent, or diapers. While there is no official law on paper banning Venezuelans from using mobile devices in supermarkets, videos uploaded to YouTube show that government workers do confiscate telephones in supermarkets if someone attempts to record footage of empty store shelves.
Witnesses to Patinez Gómez’s death have said they clearly saw National Guard troops shoot him, which the government denies. Instead, President Maduro accused the United States of being behind the man’s death. The entire riot, he claimed, was “planned” by Americans and executed by Venezuela’s “battered left.” “You all know that a military general of the United States doesn’t predict. He orders and the battered Venezuelan right-wing executes,” he said.
Maduro has routinely blamed the United States for his country’s woes, going as far as to claim that Vice President Joe Biden was personally plotting Maduro’s assassination. As Reuters notes, this has mostly bewildered American officials. “I certainly am not involved in any way, shape or form with coup planning. I don’t know anyone that is. And I probably would know if someone was,” said General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, about Venezuela in March.
Other Venezuelan officials have claimed that the riots are not caused by the government’s lack of ability in keeping inventory replenished or economic policies, including rations, that have devastated the markets. Instead, State Governor Francisco Rangel Gómez blamed mysterious “outside agitators,” arguing that “nobody is starving here,” so there is no reason to riot. “I am sure that this was for political purposes,” he told state-owned Globovision TV.
Even if there were shortages, he argued, such a crisis “can teach us a lot.”
Venezuela is estimated to be suffering 615% inflation and significant food shortages. The government has not yet opened its market to limit the damage, however, instead targeting food distributors. On Thursday, the Venezuelan government seized a distribution center used by Pepsi, Nestle, and the Venezuelan company Polar, jeopardizing the distribution of 12,000 tons of food.