Demonstrations broke out in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas on Thursday demanding better access to food and gasoline, in violation of the country’s nationwide quarantine in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
Motorists in the commercial district of Las Mercedes blocked the road after their local Texaco petrol station ran out of fuel, while cars and motorcycles also demonstrated on the Valle-Coche over lack of gasoline and access to clean water.
#9Abr 10:30am Conductores trancan la Valle – Coche al no poder cargar combustible. Denuncian que no le quieren vender gasolina a civiles. Para la hora se mantienen cerrando el paso pic.twitter.com/Mg2XUVRb6F
— Daniel Murolo (@dmurolo) April 9, 2020
Despite having the largest oil reserves in the world after the United States, fuel shortages are a regular occurrence across Venezuela. Following his rise to power in 1998, dictator Hugo Chávez nationalized the oil industry and instituted heavy fuel subsidies.
#Ahora 5:25pm Vecinos de Colinas de Carrizal estado #Miranda dan ultimátum a @HIDROCAPITALca si no les colocan el agua hoy mañana a las 10:00am van a protestar nuevamente en la carretera #PNM. pic.twitter.com/2ksDeDFbLF
— Yvan Piquel (@YvanPiquel) April 9, 2020
Since its takeover, the country’s state-run oil company PDSVA entered a stage of permanent decline and is currently producing less than 90 percent of the oil that it did before its nationalization. As a result, the socialist regime now imports its fuel from authoritarian allies such as Russia and China, but struggles with growing national debt.
As noted by Diario Las Americas, millions of Venezuelans also lack access to clean water, with some households receiving a supply for just one hour a week. Shortages have meant that many people have to venture out onto the street to fill up water containers, therefore breaking the nationwide quarantine being imposed upon them. The alternative would be going without water and not washing hands, which is one of the easiest and best ways to fight the spread of the virus.
“We are willing to respect quarantine, but how do we respect it if we have to look for water three and four times daily?” Eva, a woman who transports ten liters at a time, asked the paper. “I don’t want to leave my house, but how do we do it?”
The nationwide lockdown is wreaking further devastation on Venezuela’s shattered economy, with the country already in the midst of one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. When dictator Nicolás Maduro first announced the quarantine last month, many people actively ignored him, instead opting to go to work to ensure they received their meager salaries.
Venezuelan has been deemed particularly vulnerable to the pandemic as a result of its humanitarian crisis, given that millions of people are malnourished and go without living essentials such as medicine and hygiene products. Another major concern is the capacity of Venezuela hospitals to manage a serious pandemic, as they are also suffering from chronic shortages of medical resources such as antibiotics and basic sanitary products.
A major epidemic has yet to break out so far. According to official data, Venezuela has so far recorded just 171 cases of the virus and seven deaths. These figures, if correct, mean that the country currently has one of the lowest infection rates worldwide.