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Venezuelans Loot to Eat

A youth moves quickly to collect grains of corn  on the street that fell from a truck that was looted outside the port in Puerto Cabello.A youth moves quickly to collect grains of corn  on the street that fell from a truck that was looted outside the port in Puerto Cabello.

The cab of Carlos Del Pino’s big rig gave him a nerve-rattling front-row seat to a surge in mob attacks on Venezuela’s neighborhood markets, cattle ranches and food delivery trucks like his.

Shortly after pulling away from the docks at Puerto Cabello, the country’s biggest port, he witnessed 20 people swarm a truck ahead of him and in a frenzy to fill up their sacks with the corn it was carrying to a food-processing plant. The driver was held at gunpoint. “It fills you with terror,” Del Pino said, AP reported.

He has hauled cargo for 14 years, and on a good month earns the equivalent of about $100, enough to support his wife and two daughters. Yet, despite his fears, he sympathizes with his impoverished countrymen, who are becoming desperate amid Venezuela’s widespread food shortages and sky-high inflation. “They have to loot to eat,” he said.

Sporadic looting, food riots and protests driven by the hungry poor have surged in Venezuela, a country that’s no stranger to unrest. But the uprisings playing out recently have a different face than the mostly middle-class protesters who took to the streets for months last year in political demonstrations trying to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

“These protests are coming from people of the lower classes who simply cannot get enough to eat,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, who has spent decades researching Venezuela. “They want relief, not necessarily to force Maduro from power.”

The surge in violent food protests began in poor neighborhoods across the country around Christmas, when Maduro had promised that holiday hams were coming in government food baskets to be distributed to his supporters.

But many didn’t arrive, sparking protests with small groups burning garbage in the street and looting. Opposition pundits called it the “pork revolution”. Trying to bring calm, Maduro ordered hundreds of supermarkets to slash prices to the previous month’s level—a tall order in a country where prices have been doubling every few weeks.

In the first half of January, there were at least 110 incidents of looting, more than five times than in the same period a year earlier, says the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, a non-governmental group that tracks unrest.

Food and the cash to pay for it are more difficult to find, especially outside the capital Caracas. And even when people have money, prices are often beyond their reach, with the inflation rate soaring above 2,600% in 2017, the opposition- controlled National Assembly says.

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