A mob of starved Venezuelan residents in central Carabobo state stopped a truck full of powdered milk Monday night, looting its contents and setting parts of the truck on fire. Incidents like this, many caught on video, are occurring on a daily basis in the socialist nation as the government struggles to subdue protesters.
Images and video began to surface Monday night from Tocuyito, a neighborhood in Valencia, Carabobo state, of Venezuelans looting a milk truck, followed by fires that caused hours of delays.
— CaraotaDigital (@CaraotaDigital) May 24, 2016
Vídeo exclusivo..protestan,saquean, y queman gandola en autopista de Valencia tocuyito pic.twitter.com/aw6ALQUgdV
— Ramon Bravo (@RAMONBRAVOUC) May 24, 2016
The next day, video of a similar incident in western Táchira state began appearing on Twitter. In Táchira, Venezuelans seized and looted a truck carrying rice.
— profesor chiflado (@ProfeChiflado_1) May 25, 2016
— Imagen (@Imag3n) May 25, 2016
Residents can be seen struggling to join the mob, carrying out some bags of rice. Twitter users used the images to condemn the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro, joking that the crowd was “waging economic war” against Maduro and condemning Chavismo.
Maduro has been president for three years following the death of dictator Hugo Chávez. During his tenure, years of mismanagement of Venezuela’s lucrative oil industry and strict price and import controls have decimated the nation’s food supply. Control over both prices and currency exchanges has rendered many supermarkets unable to import basic goods. To control the throngs seeking to buy goods like vegetable oil, flour, and milk, Maduro imposed a ration system in supermarkets in 2014. The ration system forced millions of Venezuelans to wait in lines lasting as long as eight hours for food.
In February, the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a resolution declaring a “nutritional emergency.” President Maduro, during a broadcast of his television program, urged Venezuelans to find ways to grow their own food, despite the limitations faced in urban settings.
Food shortages have driven even the most fervent supporters of Chávez to call for a change in government. In a video of yet another looting surfacing on social media in April, a man with a tattoo of Chávez’s face is seen shouting that his people are hungry and calling for change, while a mob fights over a bag of onions in the background.
Estimates vary on the number of public lootings taking place in Venezuela, though all evidence points to a significant spike in recent weeks. The Venezuelan publication El Pitazo collected government crime data to find that at least 91 lootings have occurred in 2016, with 15 attempts to loot thwarted by police and the Bolivarian National Guard. 181 people have been arrested so far as part of the counter-looting effort.
RunRun.es, another Venezuelan online media outlet, found that — between May 13 and 20 — 25 lootings or looting attempts occurred nationwide, more than two a day. The outlet notes that the incidents were distributed nearly evenly across the country, suggesting that no one state is more vulnerable to such incidents than others.
Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of conspiring to sink the Venezuelan economy, referring to the alleged campaign as an “economic war.” In response to the nation’s widespread hunger problem, Maduro has mobilized Venezuelan troops for exercises against potential “imperialist” invasion. “From the empire, they dream of dividing our armed forces… fragmenting them, weakening them,” he said at a military event this week.
Maduro has also moved to keep Venezuelan citizens from leaving to the United States. In March, the socialist government demanded that the 100-strong staff of the U.S. embassy in Caracas be reduced to 17 people, the same number operating the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. This week, the U.S. embassy announced it could no longer accept visa applications from Venezuelan nationals to the United States as it was severely understaffed and could not process them all.