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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

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Waiting in long queues to buy food has become a daily reality for most people living in Venezuela, which is facing serious shortages of essential goods. When some unscrupulous police officers cut the long line in a supermarket in Valencia, people who had been waiting in line for hours got angry.

According to our Observer, who lives in the neighbourhood where the incident took place, the angry reaction shows just how fed up the population is with the special treatment that police are getting during this time of intense shortages.

The incident took place on April 23 in front of a supermarket located on one of the main streets in Valencia, the capital of the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo. A resident filmed a pick-up truck belonging to the municipal police parked next to the supermarket entrance, where many people are standing. A man – probably a store employee – loads bags of flour into the back of the pick-up under the watchful gaze of three policemen.

A woman, angered by the scenes, makes a desperate attempt to climb up into the back of the pick-up before she’s stopped by two policemen. The tension heightens as bystanders get involved.

One man yells, “She’s hungry!”

Others actually succeed in grabbing bags of flour before the pick-up drives off. 
“People revolted because they don’t have anything right now”
Diego (not his real name) lives in the Valencia neighbourhood where the incident took place.

According to people I know who were there when the incident took place, people were already on edge because they had been waiting for hours in the sun.
When the police officers arrived, they walked right into the store, where they spoke with one of the employees. A few minutes later, the same employee started bringing out bags of corn flour. All the people waiting saw this and it made them angry.

Increasingly, people are standing up when they see the security forces acting in this way. People are angry because we are facing shortages of everything right now: sugar, milk, diapers, medicine, flour, bread, eggs, chicken, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, beans, spare car parts… [Editor’s note: Starting last year, lootings have also been increasing in frequency as people face these shortages].

“Some managers of grocery stores have come to informal agreements with security forces”

Quite a few store managers have come to informal agreements with the security forces. The security officers pay the same price as everyone else, but they don’t have to wait in line. Most of them bring these products back to their families, but others sell them on the black market. Store managers comply because they want the security forces to protect their stores. So everyone benefits from this arrangement… except the general population!

It’s also important to note that there are also informal agreements between the police, the National Guard and dealers who resell these food items at higher prices on the black market [Editor’s note: In Venezuela, these dealers are called “bachaqueros”.] Technically, it’s illegal to resell products at higher prices because the state controls prices. However, everyone in this chain seems to act with impunity…

It’s common to see police officers or members of the National Guard carrying on in this manner in the supermarkets. The only difference this time is that it was filmed. That’s rare –- very often police officers confiscate the phones of people who try to film.

The video pushed the mayor of Valencia to react. He announced that he had dismissed the head of the municipal police and suspended the officers seen in the video. He also launched an investigation into the matter. This is surprising - most of the time, authorities turn their backs on this kind of abuse.

Venezuela is currently embroiled in a serious economic crisis. A recession began in 2014 and, last year, the inflation rate rose to 180 percent, one of the highest rates in the world.

Venezuela makes 90 percent of its revenue from the sale of petrol and it has been massively affected by the plummeting prices worldwide.

The opposition has benefited from the economic crisis and the increasing anger of the population. They made huge gains in the legislative elections last December. 

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