(Sebrina Martin) It’s the law of the jungle in Venezuela, as shopping for groceries becomes an increasingly dangerous activity. As the shortage crisis worsens, more and more angry mobs are raiding the nation’s supermarkets, looting whatever basic goods they can find.
During the first half of 2015, the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict (OVCS) registered no fewer than 132 incidents of looting or attempted looting at various stores throughout the country. In addition, Venezuelan consumers staged over 500 protests that condemned the lack of available products at state-run grocery stores, markets, and pharmacies.
The report, titled “Social Conflict in Venezuela during the First Half of 2015,” also notes that 2,836 protests have taken place this year over various demands, including labor issues, housing, security, and education, as well as food shortages.
The number of total protests, however, has dropped compared to the same period last year, when 6,369 anti-government rallies took place, leaving 43 dead, hundreds wounded, and dozens of political prisoners detained.
With an average of 14 protests per day, the unrest has Venezuela “trapped in a spiral of social and political conflicts that grow over the months, and which could become more acute due to the forthcoming parliamentary elections,” the observatory notes in its report.
On the other hand, the South American country has experienced a surge in protests over labor issues. The NGO reports that demonstrations over these issues increased by 50 percent compared to the same period last year, with 162 labor protests per month.
High inflation and the drastic decline in the value of the bolívar on the black market has hit wages hard. Venezuelans currently earn the lowest incomes on the continent, with a minimum wage of US$10.87 per month, based on the unofficial exchange rate.
Marco Antonio Ponce, general coordinator for the OVCS, tells the PanAm Post that the rise in protests and vandalism stems from a widespread dissatisfaction with the government among the public.
“Desperation is increasing, since people can’t purchase food, medicine, or personal-hygiene products,” he says.
While labor issues continue to be the most cited reason for demonstrations, Ponce says the OVCS has observed a shift from more politically motivated protests in 2014 to demonstrations focused on social issues in 2015.
Regime officials continue with the line that the opposition is behind a “destabilization plot,” inciting looting and protests as a way to harm the ruling party’s position.
“The opposition has a tradition of turning these electoral processes into a war,” says PSUV Congressman Eduardo Piñate. “Not just putting up posters and chanting slogans, but a true dirty war, an economic war, a media war inside and outside the country.”
Ponce says that while he respect’s the government’s position, the OVCS’s data demonstrates that the looting that has taken place is not a recent occurrence or politically motivated, but “has been an ongoing, increasing trend since early 2015.”
He says looters who steal food show signs of “desperation and discomfort,” frustrated by the inability to find basic goods.
The OVCS representative concludes that unless the government “takes the necessary measures,” he expects protests over food shortages to increase in the second half of the year.