In Venezuela, Former Chavistas Risk Lives Fighting over a Bag of Onions

A disturbing video of a crowd physically beating each other to get at a select few bags of onions outside a supermarket in Venezuela highlights the struggle the average Venezuelan must endure to keep his or her family fed in the increasingly impoverished socialist nation.

One man in the video, who appears to have gotten his bag of onions, stops to tell the camera that he is a loyal supporter of late socialist dictator Hugo Chávez, but conditions under his successor Nicolás Maduro are so dire that he can no longer support the nation’s socialist party.

The man turns to the camera to show a tattoo of Chávez on his back. “We were Chavistas,” he says, “this old man taught us how to have a country. Don’t let this shit fall,” he asks of Maduro. “Us Venezuelans are killing each other over a piece of food.”

The video is similar to other footage coming out of the nation’s supermarkets over the past two years. Under Maduro’s rationing system, Venezuelans must now endure five- to eight-hour lines at supermarkets to buy food. Many necessary goods like flour, vegetable oil, and milk are nearly impossible to acquire, causing fights on lines where one customer is seen holding such an item. In such a fight last year, a mob attacked a supermarket warehouse, raiding its contents and killing a 21-year-old man. President Maduro responded to the death by blaming the American government for “planning” the mob. “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 of the incident.

Earlier this month, Maduro responded to critics by denying that there was a food shortage in Venezuela. “There is no hunger in Venezuela,” he said, “we are going through a tough time but the people have access to goods.” Spain’s El Mundo notes that statistics show that Venezuelans at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder do struggle to eat. 12 percent of Venezuelans cannot afford three meals a day, according to the NGO Health Observatory. One woman speaking to the newspaper from Venezuela tells El Mundo that her children regularly go to bed hungry. “Last night I could only feed my eight-year-old grandson half an arepa,” she says, “I told him to drink two glasses of water.”

El Mundo notes that Venezuela’s inflation rate is currently estimated at 700 percent, the world’s highest. Two years ago, the inflation rate was estimated at a “staggering” 60 percent, and reports of starved citizens were already surfacing.

In February, the opposition-led National Assembly passed a bill declaring a “nutritional emergency,” calling for the government to respond to the national lack of food. The legislators insisted that evidence proved there was simply not enough food in the country to feed its population. The ruling socialist party opposed the bill on the grounds that admitting such a food shortage would invite “an American intervention.”

The bill passed despite advice from President Maduro that hungry Venezuelans in urban areas should “grow your own food.”


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