As Venezuela fights an economic disaster, food shortages mean looters are robbing supermarkets while regular customers deal with long lines and limited supplies.
Shoppers in the country are now spending hours lining up to buy staples including flour and laundry soap, turning queues into scenes of shoving competitions and increasingly frequent attempts to steal from shops.
The disaster has hit President Nicolas Maduro’s approval ratings and raised suspicion levels in the country.
56 incidences of looting and 76 attempted thefts occurred in the first half of this year, according to Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, a local NGO, which based the statistics on media reports and statements of observers countrywide.
On Sunday, a small group in the city of San Cristobal forced its way into the state-run Bicentenario supermarket to steal products after it had been shut, leaving workers scratched and hurt.
Speaking to Reuters, store manager Edward Perez said, “As we were closing, a group of 20 people unexpectedly started shouting insults at the government and the workers.”
Several thieves were apprehended after the fracas, which the president blamed on “ultra-right-wing sectors of the opposition” seeking to stir violence.
Last Friday, 60 people were arrested in Ciudad Guayana, in southern Venezuela, and one man was killed after shops were burglarized.
More regular than these serious phenomena are small melees that arise when delivery vehicles arrive at stores with expensive products such as milk and chicken.
The mixture of exaggerated rumors and limited formal communication often makes it difficult to differentiate between the two and thus fully understand how widespread the issue is.
Queues have been longer since early this year, and have been particularly edgy since last Friday’s occurrence in Ciudad Guayana.
The challenges, however, have not spurred a bigger wave of demonstrations like those organized by the opposition early last year, which left 43 people dead.
Supporters of the Socialist Party say that the network of state-funded grocery stores established by the late president Hugo Chavez, and supported by oil revenue, helped lessen poverty and food shortages during his 1999-2013 reign.
But the mixture of dysfunctional money controls, which have reduced Venezuela’s ability to import, and the end of a 10 year-long oil boom has left Maduro’s administration strapped for currency and fighting to maintain the charity.
Lines are noticeably filled with looters who buy subsidized items and resell them at a higher price on the informal market or in adjacent Colombia, generating suspicion between the resellers and those endeavoring to stock their own kitchens.