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Venezuelans protest food shortages


Venezuelans protest food shortages

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CARACAS – Banging empty pots and brandishing signs saying “only the government is growing fatter”, Venezuelan activists in Caracas on Saturday protested food shortages in the crisis-stricken country.

The march by a few hundred people, quickly halted by security officials firing tear gas, built on two months of near-daily demonstrations against leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who critics say has plunged oil-rich Venezuela into its worst economic crisis in history.

Protesters are demanding early presidential elections, freedom for jailed activists, and humanitarian aid to allow in scarce medicines and food.

Currency controls that crimp imports, as well as ailing local farms, have left many supermarket shelves empty.

Around 93 per cent of Venezuelans cannot afford to buy enough food and 73 per cent of them have lost weight in the last year, according to a recent study by three universities.

Children begging in front of bakeries, restaurants, or markets are now a common sight, while more and more people are salvaging food from the trash.

Many in the middle class have had to cut back on meat or vegetables and instead get by on cheaper starches.

“Sometimes I only eat once or twice a day. Today I couldn’t find bread (for breakfast) at any bakery, and I came here because I can’t just stay home watching this country fall to pieces,” said Consuelo, a 60-year-old protester banging two spoons together at the march in western Caracas.

Traditionally a poorer, pro-government area, parts of western Caracas are now home to road barricades, graffiti reading “Maduro dictator!” and clashes between hooded youth and National Guards.

“It’s time for Nicolas Maduro to listen to the people and finally leave,” said Consuelo, adding that she prays every day for an end to the crisis.

But Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader elected in 2013 to replace the late Hugo Chavez, says he is not going anywhere.

He accuses street protesters of leading an “armed insurrection” designed to bring down socialism and allow big business to get its hands on Venezuela’s crude oil reserves, the world’s largest.

At least 64 people have been killed since the unrest began in early April, with the state prosecutor’s office on Saturday confirming another death.

Yoiner Pena, 28, died in the western state of Lara after being shot from a pickup truck near a protest in April, the office said in a statement. (Reuters)