28 arrested in Venezuela for looting, violence during Christmas period

For a decade and a half, strict exchange controls have severely limited access to US dollars in Venezuela. A black market in hard currency has spread in response, and as once-sky-high oil revenue runs dry, Venezuela’s economy is in free-fall.
Men work on the installation of a Christmas sign in Caracas, Venezuela on Nov 2, 2017.
Men work on the installation of a Christmas sign in Caracas, Venezuela on Nov 2, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela (REUTERS) - The Venezuelan authorities said on Tuesday (Dec 27) they had arrested 28 people in southern Bolivar state for looting and disorder over Christmas in the latest unrest during a severe economic crisis.

There have been scattered protests and roadblocks around the South American OPEC nation in recent days over food shortages, power-cuts, high prices and fuel rationing.

Local chamber of commerce head Florenzo Schettino told Reuters 10 businesses - mostly liquor stores - were looted as dark fell on Christmas Day in Bolivar, which has seen unrest at various points over the last four years of brutal recession.

In the western Andean states, police and soldiers were guarding gas stations, where there were large lines and customers were only allowed to fill up 35 liters per vehicle.

"We're wasting so much time... The government is testing people's patience," said bus driver Pedro Pina, waiting for hours to buy fuel in Barinas state.

Critics blame President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party for Venezuela's economic mess, saying they have persisted with failed statist policies for too long, while turning a blind eye to rampant corruption and inefficiency.

The government says it is the victim of an "economic war" by political opponents and right-wing foreign powers, intent on bringing down Maduro in a coup.

"This can only be reversed with deep economic reforms," said opposition legislator and economist Angel Alvarado.

In western Zulia state, several hundred thousand people were plunged into darkness on Christmas Eve, sparking fury among those who had scraped together money and hunted for products throughout the day to prepare a traditional family dinner.

"I spent the whole day stressed out - and then the lights went off. What a pathetic Christmas," said Lilibeth Rodriguez, 40, whose family gathering was ruined.