Poor Venezuelans in the center of the nation’s capital, Caracas, attempted to storm the nation’s presidential palace Thursday, chanting, “We want food” after Bolivarian National Guard soldiers appeared to steal the contents of a shipment of rice and sugar to a market where civilians had been waiting in line for hours.
The chants and protests against the government resulted in police beating protesters, using tear gas, and roving Chavista gangs known as “colectivos” beating and robbing journalists attempting to cover the developments.
The protest, all reports appear to agree, was spontaneous. A long line of Venezuelans had been waiting for hours to receive their food rations as allotted by the socialist government when a truck appeared to park behind the market in question. The food delivery then immediately disappeared in the hands of soldiers, and the manager of the market told the crowd they had no more food left to distribute for the day.
It remains unclear whether the National Guard troops were permitted by law to take the food or whether they simply looted the truck.
The crowd, chanting, “We want food,” “We are hungry,” and “We are desperate,” organized a march down the avenue where the market was located and began to call for a march straight to the presidential palace. The crowd, estimated at around 150, blocked traffic in what newspaper El Nacional described as the heart of the city. The crowd did not manage to make it to the palace, as police used tear gas and rubber bullets to deter the hungry protesters, and the Chavista “colectivos” began beating individual protesters.
— 24h (@24h_tve) June 3, 2016
— ABC.es (@abc_es) June 2, 2016
Also caught in the mayhem were reporters, who were beaten and robbed by “colectivo” members. Daniel Aponte, the head of the neighborhood government in the capital, personally stole the cell phone of at least one journalist, El Nacional reports.
The Associated Press confirms that uniformed police, not just “colectivos,” beat protesters with sticks to keep them from the presidential palace.
Deivis Ramírez of the newspaper El Universal lost his phone to Aponte before being beaten and literally kicked out of the area. “They ejected me with shoves and insults,” he told El Nacional. “When I asked Aponte for comment, he replied ‘I don’t feel like it’ and called for them to kick me out.”
Protesters managed to beat at least one member of a “colectivo” to the ground; he was quickly rescued by a National Guard soldier.
On Friday morning, Twitter users began reporting that the government had lined the streets of Caracas, where the protests had taken place, with soldiers and that traffic had been blocked into and out of the area. The anti-socialist outlet La Patilla reports that they have acquired a list of new regulations to be implemented in the neighborhood, among them the banning of vehicles carrying food in the region. All will be inspected before being brought in to the appropriate markets, ostensibly to keep civilians from seeing the food before it is stolen by well-connected soldiers.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has caused severe damage to the Venezuelan government through a variety of socialist measures that have rendered its abundant oil supply unable to keep the nation well-clothed or fed. Strict price controls forbid businesses from using dollars or Euros to import supplies, forcing companies like Coca-Cola and beer manufacturer Polar to cease production. Venezuela’s legislature declared a “nutritional emergency” in February, stating the nation was not importing enough food for its population. It has also been unable to produce its own food for years following the mass theft of farmland from its owners to be distributed to “the people” under dictator Hugo Chávez. The result has been a violent situation in which Venezuelans are forced to loot on a daily basis to feed their families and protect themselves from hungry criminals.