Venezuela in crisis: 400 arrested for looting

Venezuelan military have arrested at least 400 people in the city of Cumana after the latest bout of looting.

Venezuelans protest on the streets asking for food in Caracas
With crowds chanting "We want food!," protests and melees at shops have spread across Venezuela in recent weeks [Miguel Gutierrez/EPA]

Venezuelan military have swarmed the city of Cumana, which is the capital of Sucre state, and detained more than 400 people after street violence and looting over food shortages.

Several people were reportedly shot dead with more than 20 businesses ransacked during the riots on Tuesday.

Local authorities have said that these acts of what they called “vandalism” were inspired by a right-wing faction within the country’s opposition.

“Local media was saying that three people had been reported as having been killed, but local authorities denied these claims,” said Al Jazeera’s Virginia Lopez, reporting from Caracas.

“They said these deaths had occurred in an unrelated fashion to this looting.”

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“There were only 400 people arrested and the deaths were not linked to the looting,”  regional governor Luis Acuna told a local TV station, calling the looters vandals backed by the opposition.

“I have no doubt they paid them, this was planned.”

Nelson Moreno, governor of Anzoategui state, which neighbours Sucre, said eight people were also arrested there on Tuesday, in “irregular” situations, a term that usually refers to looting.

With desperate crowds of people chanting “We want food!,” protests and melees at shops have spread across Venezuela in recent weeks, caused by severe shortages.

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According to a local monitoring group, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, more than 10 incidents of looting are occurring daily across the nation of 30 million people, which is suffering a brutal recession and the world’s highest rate of inflation.

Venezuela’s political opposition says President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez are to blame for failed socialist economic policies. The opposition is pursuing a recall referendum this year in an effort to remove him from office.

But Maduro, 53, says his foes are waging an “economic war” against him and seeking to foment a coup. Government officials say there is not enough time this year to organise a referendum.

Should there be such a vote in 2017 and Maduro loses, his vice president would take over – rather than a new presidential election being held – meaning the ruling “Chavismo” movement would still be in power.

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies