CARACAS: Venezuelan police have arrested hundreds of people as the country’s food crisis erupted into deadly looting this week, heightening hardship and political uncertainty in the impoverished oil-producing nation.
Dozens of bakeries, supermarkets and hardware shops were looted on Tuesday in the eastern city of Cumana, the latest flashpoint in a crisis that has killed at least four people so far.
“It ended in total ruin because the businesses had not only their stock pillaged but also their furniture. It was total destruction,” said Ruben Saud, president of the Cumana Chamber of Commerce.
The chaos started when gangs of looters on motorcycles raided trucks transporting food, witnesses said.
The governor of Sucre state, where Cumana is located, told state television channel VTV that “more than 400 people” were arrested, including three suspected gang leaders involved in the looting.
Arrests have also been reported in other towns.
The opposition blames President Nicolas Maduro for an economic crisis in which Venezuelans are suffering shortages of basic foods and goods.
Maduro in turn blames the crisis on an “economic war” allegedly waged against his leftist government by the business elite.
He accuses the opposition of fomenting unrest to spark a foreign intervention to unseat him.
Maduro is resisting efforts from his center-right opponents to remove him from office through a referendum, and warned he will not tolerate violence.