After months of increasingly alarming reports out of Venezuela, where the legislature declared a “food emergency” in February, The New York Times has finally shed some light on what appears to be the beginnings of a famine in the oil-rich country, where nearly 90 percent of civilians do not have access to food.
“A staggering 87 percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food, the most recent assessment of living standards by Simón Bolívar University found,” The New York Times reported on Monday. The outlet highlighted the growing violence at empty supermarkets, crop warehouses, and in the middle of highways, where civilians have begun halting and looting trucks transporting the limited food supplies left in the nation. The Times reports that more than 50 violent incidents related to lack of food have occurred in the last two weeks, defined as “food riots, protests and mass looting.”
For months, economic experts have noted that President Nicolás Maduro has engaged in gross mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy, particularly its lucrative oil supply, which he has often used as a source of patronage to allied nations like Cuba in exchange for slave doctors.
Maduro has also imposed severe rations on the amount of food families can buy and forced businesses to do business with foreign corporations in only the domestic bolívar currency, one of the world’s least valuable, due to the nation’s skyrocketing inflation rate. As a result, many businesses cannot import the goods they require to replenish their inventories. Adding to the food-related stress are the acres of “nationalized” land taken from private farmers under both Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez, which now produce little to no crops.
The combined result of these factors, The New York Times notes, is an economy where the average family needs sixteen minimum-wage salaries to feed itself.
This situation is not a new one, though. Venezuelans have been waiting on six-to-eight-hour supermarket lines since Maduro issued ration cards for supermarkets in 2014. Venezuelans got by on products sold in the black market, however, trading their rations with others based on their greater needs. Following a major crackdown allegedly on black market trading which saw the deportation, beating, and rape of thousands of Colombian nationals, many goods became increasingly scarce. By February of this year, the legislature issued a decree simply stating that Venezuela had run out of food.
President Maduro responded to the urgent need for food by calling on Venezuelans to build chicken coops in their urban apartments and eat eggs they produced at home.
Maduro is a published New York Times opinion-editorial contributor. In the newspaper’s pages, Maduro argued that his presidency had made great strides in “flagship universal health care and education programs” using “revenue from Venezuelan oil.” He also boasted of the revitalization of police forces, now implicated in thousands of human rights abuses nationwide.
As Venezuelans grow hungrier, looting incidents and protests demanding food have become more violent. In May, a mob set on fire a truck carrying milk, seeking to empty it of its content. Last week, 17-year-old Jean Paul Omaña was killed, caught up in a mob attempting to loot supermarkets and cargo trucks in Mérida state.
This weekend, a 27-year-old man was killed in a shootout on a ration line, where civilians were waiting for hours for government-provided food. The man had left his wife in his place on the ration line to go get a drink of water; he was shot and killed upon his return by armed gunmen on the rooftops surrounding the line.
The Venezuelan government has arrested 400 people so far involved in looting incidents, with Bolivian National Guard troops increasingly using violence to quell anti-socialist protests.
The local newspaper Diario de los Andes quotes El Nacional with more alarming statistics: there has been a 320 percent increase in shortage-related protests between May 2015 and May 2016; about 21 protests are now occurring a day, and at least 254 lootings or looting attempts are on record for 2016 so far.