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Venezuela: 400 Arrested, 17-Year-Old Killed in Scramble to Find Food

At least 400 were arrested on Tuesday in eastern Sucre state, Venezuela, with police arguing that the starved people, many chanting “we want food,” were attempting to loot trucks carrying food meant to be distributed later through the socialist government’s ration system.

Reuters cites the governor of Sucre, Luis Acuña, as confirming the hundreds of arrests to Venezuelan television outlet Globovisión. “We only registered 400 arrests and the dead were not involved in looting,” Acuña said Wednesday, responding to reports that people had been killed in the government-orchestrated crackdown on the hungry mob. “What happened yesterday is a situation that happens in towns and cities every day,” he added.

What happened, according to Reuteres, was that a mob shouting, “we want food,” had tried to break into a supermarket and line the streets in protest, asking the government to lift restrictions on food and price controls that make importing food nearly impossible for corporations.

In a separate food protest incident in western Mérida state, reports confirm the death of 17-year-old Jean Paul Omaña, the fourth confirmed death in a looting/food deprivation incident in Venezuela in the past month. Omaña died in a violent protest following the announcement to a starved crowd that their supermarket had run out of milk. Reports on the ground note that looters struck private businesses as well as government warehouses for the redistribution of food.

Argentine news outlet Infobae lists rice, oil, pasta, milk, corn flour, wheat flour, and bread as some of the food items nearly impossible to find in Venezuela currently.

The socialist Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro has been rationing food since 2014 and imposing strict price controls that make importing abundant supplies a challenge for businesses. With the world’s highest inflation rate and little to no interest among foreign investors in risking an investment in Venezuela — and the active harassment of food suppliers like Polar Inc. on Maduro’s part — supermarket lines often take between six to eight hours to clear, making a routine shopping trip nearly impossible for Venezuelans with jobs. Many students and teachers in western Táchira, the birthplace of the anti-Chavista movement in the country, have given up on going to school entirely, dedicating the time they would be in class to hunting for food instead.

Socialist food management policy has also cut the food supply to such a dramatic extent that the nation’s opposition-led legislature decreed that the country had simply run out of food in February of this year.

The result has been an increase in the number of looting incidents of shipping trucks, supermarkets, and government distribution warehouses. The looting incidents have begun occurring nationwide, with a riot breaking out last week in the capital, Caracas, in which police used force to keep protesters shouting, “we want food” from marching to the presidential palace.

President Maduro has encouraged Venezuelans in urban areas to find ways to grow food in their own home as a response to the burgeoning famine, claiming that he only eats eggs from his family’s chicken coop.

“It is like there had been a natural disaster, like a hurricane which swept things away,” Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of Miranda state and two-time presidential candidate against Maduro, told Time magazine in an interview published Thursday. He estimates about 36 incidents of looting occur nationwide daily: “In Venezuela, there are about 18 events every day of looting, attempted looting, repression in the lines [for food]. These are 18 registered, but I believe we only know about half.”

“There is very strong division on the side of the government, because the country is sinking,” he said, noting that the food situation has added to the urgency of a recall effort against President Maduro, who has vowed to prevent a preemptive presidential vote at all costs.

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