Violent Food & Fuel Shortage Riots Grip Venezuela Amid COVID-19 Lockdown

Despite a six week mandated nationwide coronavirus lockdown, broad protests have once again gripped parts of Venezuela amid crippling food and fuel shortages. Citizens are being asked to stay home, yet can't get enough food to survive. 

New reporting by Bloomberg counts at least 500 protests across 15 states so far this month, which has included multiple killed and scores wounded and arrested in often violent clashes with police, also as protests turn to looting.

Riot and looting scene in Venezuela this week.

Riots have also reportedly erupted in some instances over police attempting to enforce quarantine rules, such as the wearing of masks being enforced in all public spaces. This as only 311 cases of coronavirus and 10 deaths have been reported nationwide according to official government figures.

However, in part thanks to US-led sanctions, what little personal protective gear was available flew off the shelves last month, with few options available for most citizens other than sewing their own masks

While most families in North America have Amazon and Walmart deliveries of food and vital items coming to their door, also amid an abundance of cheap gas, Venezuleans are forced to venture out of self-isolation seeking out needed resources to survive.

"Stocking up and hunkering down isn’t an option for many people who are too poor to buy enough food in advance," as Bloomberg notes.

Bloomberg further emphasizes the situation is only set to continue spiraling downward, possibly into political unrest

Vast gasoline shortages are taking a toll on already fragile supply chains, disrupting food deliveries and public transportation everywhere. The situation is likely to continue: there are few signs of long-term relief for local refineries. In the meantime, crops in rural states have gone to waste as farmers are unable to collect fruit and grains on empty tanks. 

Dozens of Venezuelans clashed with police forces in the countryside of southern Bolivar state on Thursday.

Looting has also been observed as the poor get desperate. They find themselves in a dangerous Catch-22: on the one hand risking arrest for going outside in town streets, but on the other risking their family's starvation if they don't venture far out for food and vital supplies.

The food and fuel crises are directly intertwined, exacerbated by American sanctions which especially seek to choke Venezuelan oil exports, refining and operations, as Reuters describes

Irrigation systems are halted in the western Andean highlands and laborers cannot get to fields for harvest. The fuel shortages have worsened in recent weeks as Washington has tightened sanctions on the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, some 9 million Venezuelans already were suffering from malnutrition, according to the U.N. World Food Programme, and the latest developments may make it increasingly difficult to keep the country in quarantine.

Simply put, vast stores of food are rotting as producers lack the means to get them to market

It was a crisis already in the making, sent hurling over the edge by Caracas' stay-at-home orders. As Reuters details further

The OPEC country’s decrepit refineries are in near collapse and the U.S. State Department has pressured companies not to sell gasoline to Venezuela, according to sources, creating long lines at service stations around the country.

Maduro blames the fuel shortages and the economic problems on U.S. sanctions.

Venezuela’s heavy fuel subsidies have made it so cheap that drivers rarely bother paying for it when they fill up at PDVSA service stations.

“This is what humanitarian activists hoped to never see: a sanitary crisis on top of a nutritional crisis,” a Venezuelan health expert, Susana Raffalli, said of the accelerating crisis. 

In the town of Calabozo this week, a local police station was attacked reportedly after mass arrests over violating the mask mandate and 'stay at home' orders. Angry crowds could be seen attempting to break in to the police station to free relatives. 

“It hits us as the country does not have gasoline, protective equipment or a clear response to COVID-19,” Raffalli added.