With much of the country on the verge of starvation, food trafficking has become one of the biggest businesses.
Venezuela’s supreme court has abandoned measures to take over the opposition-led Congress’ mandate after the controversial move was branded a “coup” by critics and raised pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.
The country’s top court, which has consistently sided with Maduro’s administration, on Saturday also rolled back its decision to lift parliamentarians’ immunity from prosecution.
The announcement came hours after Maduro had called the court to annul its initial ruling “in order to maintain institutional stability and the balance of powers”.
Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from Cucuta on the Venezuela-Colombia border, said: “Maduro was trying to cast himself as a statesman, trying to resolve a power conflict in the country, but the opposition says he was just rolling back after there were so many protests inside the country and internationally for a decision that was seen as crossing a line and changing the constitution.”
Maduro’s opponents, who had accused him of staging a coup after the Supreme Tribunal’s initial decision, also dismissed the reversal on Saturday.
“Nothing has changed. The coup d’etat continues,” opposition assembly speaker Julio Borges critics told reporters, calling the retreat a hypocritical roll-back by an unpopular government that had overplayed its hand.
“You can’t pretend to just normalise the nation after carrying out a ‘coup’.”
On Wednesday, the court said it was taking over the legislature’s role because it was in “contempt” of the law. It had shot down most of the National Assembly’s measures since the opposition won its control in 2015.
The move earned the government public condemnation for the first time from a senior member of Maduro’s own camp, Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with him on Friday.
She branded the court’s rulings a “rupture of constitutional order”, in a surprise declaration on state television.
“It’s my obligation to express my great concern to the country.”
Throughout Friday, pockets of protesters in oil-rich Venezuela blocked roads, unfurled banners and chanted slogans against Maduro’s unpopular government, including “Freedom!” and “No To Dictatorship!”
“Hunger, lack of medicines and babies dying, how did the government bring us to this point?” Edith Sandoval, a Venezuelan, told Al Jazeera.
“And now they’re eliminating a basic constitutional institution. And we pay the consequences.”
Maduro, 54, was narrowly elected in 2013 amid widespread support for the ruling Socialist Party’s welfare programmes.
But his ratings have plummeted to just over 20 percent as Venezuelans struggle with a fourth year of recession, scarcities of food and medicines and the highest inflation in the world.
Critics blame a failing socialist system, whereas the government says its enemies are waging an “economic war”. The fall in oil prices since mid-2014 has exacerbated the crisis.