CARACAS: Venezuelan security forces have arrested at least 400 people after the latest bout of looting and food riots in the crisis-hit OPEC member country, local officials said on Wednesday.
Another death was also reported in the state of Merida from unrest which is breaking out sporadically across the South American OPEC nation.
On Tuesday, violence engulfed the eastern Caribbean coastal town of Cumana as looters swarmed through dozens of shops and security forces struggled to maintain control.
There were unconfirmed reports on social media of several deaths in Cumana, which is the capital of Sucre state. But regional governor Luis Acuna from the ruling Socialist Party said those reported deaths were unrelated to the looting.
“There were only 400 people arrested and the deaths were not linked to the looting,” he told a local TV station, calling the looters vandals encouraged by right-wing politicians.
“I have no doubt they paid them, this was planned.”
Nelson Moreno, governor of Anzoategui state, which neighbors Sucre, said eight people were also arrested on Tuesday in “irregular” situations, a term that usually refers to looting.
With desperate crowds of people chanting “We want food!,” protests and melees at shops have spread across Venezuela in recent weeks, fueled by severe shortages.
Three people were shot dead in separate incidents last week, with a policeman and a soldier arrested in two cases.
The Merida state prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday it was investigating the death of a 17-year-old youth, shot late on Tuesday during an “irregular” situation in the western Andean state. Local media reported food protests and an attack on a Socialist Party office there.
According to a local monitoring group, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, more than 10 incidents of looting are occurring daily across the nation of 30 million people that is suffering a brutal recession and the world’s highest rate of inflation.
Venezuela’s political opposition says President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez are to blame for failed socialist economic policies. The opposition is pursuing a recall referendum this year in an effort to remove him from office.
But Maduro, 53, says his foes are waging an “economic war” against him and seeking to foment a coup. Government officials say there is not enough time this year to organize a referendum.
Should there be such a vote in 2017 and Maduro loses, his vice president would take over rather than a new presidential election being held meaning the ruling “Chavismo” movement would still be in power.