Venezuelan Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello – the second most powerful socialist in the country – has flatly denied news reports of rampant looting and violence in Bolívar state, where police arrested hundreds for attacking markets, restaurants, convenience stores, and private residences.
“Did you see the headlines in the press?” Cabello said on Wednesday. “They only served to agonize the people, and they even said that there were lootings in private homes. We were there and nothing was happening,” Cabello said of Bolívar city in particular.
“We evaluated the situation and we can say today that the city is in total and absolute calm,” he asserted.
NTN24 adds that Cabello denied reports issued by local officials that 15,000 police and security officials were deployed throughout Bolívar state to protect businesses. “Today we can guarantee that all Venezuela and all Bolívar state down to the Brazilian border there is not a single protest.”
To the extent that violence occurred in Bolívar, Cabello argued, it was caused by “terrorist gangs [linked to] the Popular Will party,” an opposition party whose leader, Leopoldo López, is serving a 13-year sentence in prison for organizing a peaceful protest against dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Cabello was once the nation’s second-in-command as the National Assembly majority leader, but he lost his position in 2015 following an unprecedented opposition victory against the Socialist Party that year. He remains among the most powerful of Maduro’s high-ranking officials, accused of some of the worst crimes of the Venezuelan government, including drug trafficking.
Cabello’s denial of violence in Bolívar state is bizarre given the ample evidence of looting and vandalism against markets in the past week, following Maduro’s announcement that the 100 bolívar bill – the currency’s largest denomination – would be rendered worthless and replaced with higher denomination bills in response to a growing hyperinflation problem. Maduro invalidated the 100 bolívars without issuing the 500 to 20,000 denominations, leaving many unable to buy food or basic goods.
Bolívar state appeared to see the worst of the looting, with Agence France-Presse reporting that 600 businesses were significantly damaged. “It’s as if we would have gone through a war,” a business owner told AFP. “The city looks empty because most businesses are closed.”
Spanish newspaper ABC reports at least five deaths and the total destruction of 450 businesses in Bolívar city, the regional capital. Local outlets also reported that looters attacked the cafeteria at the University of the Andes and private residences.
Unlike Cabello, Maduro himself acknowledged the veracity of the looting reports, blaming the mob attacks on the opposition – “the parties of the ‘gringos’” engaged in a conspiracy organized by American President Barack Obama.
Videos uploaded to social media show mobs attacking supermarkets, hardware stores, and a variety of other businesses in the region:
Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz confirmed 424 arrests related to looting so far.
The incidents have caused some concern in China, where the Foreign Ministry urged the Venezuelan government to protect its citizens in the South American country. Reports out of Bolívar indicate that Chinese-owned businesses were especially targeted for looting, perhaps due to the friendly relations between the socialist government and the communist nation.
“China follows closely the situation in Venezuela. As a friendly country to Venezuela, we believe that its government and people are capable of handling domestic affairs and maintain national stability and development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday. “The Venezuelan side took China’s requirement seriously and made expeditious moves,” she assured reporters.