Venezuela: Fight to death over bag of flour

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. Picture: AP
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. Picture: AP
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In A Caracas supermarket last week, a pregnant woman lost her child after a fist fight over a bag of cornflour.

In one of the Venezuelan capital’s many slums, three men were found throttled by kite string – such toys fly above the rooftops to indicate where narcotics are being sold.

And following a prison gang war, in which 16 inmates lost their lives, an arsenal of heavy firearms was found in a jail where the guards are absent for fear of the prisoners.

Venezuelan socialism is falling apart under the strain of economic, social and criminal problems, and, lacking the problem-obscuring personality of late president Hugo Chavez, the public is beginning to demand answers from the government.

“Venezuela is 1,000 times worse than it was six months ago,” Pedro Sosa, a businessman and staunch Chavista (Chavez loyalist) from central Caracas, said. “And I can’t see anybody to blame but president Maduro. Everyone will tell you the same thing, because we’re unhappy”.

Nicolas Maduro, rather than being seen to tackle these problems, tries to imitate Chavez.

On Monday, adding fuel to the fire of Venezuelan aggression towards the United States, Mr Maduro announced the expulsion of three US diplomats, on the grounds of attempted sabotage of his government.

“We won’t consider relations with the United States until they stop their sabotage in Caracas,” he said the following day, after the diplomats had agreed to leave.

While the US state department denies all accusations of wrongdoing, there’s no doubt why suspicions were raised.

The three diplomats had been visiting Amazonas, a jungle state that offers little more than rainforest, the Colombian border, and guerrilla terrorist groups known to be hostile towards Venezuela’s government.

However, Mr Maduro’s reaction was seen as both extreme and pandering to a support base that is loyal not to him, but to the legacy of Chavez. While his predecessor artfully portrayed himself as the people’s hero, battling the evils of US imperialism, Mr Maduro’s imitations make him appear rash and imprudent.

“It’s madness,” Pedro Delgado, a government employee, said. “Even if Maduro is 100 per cent correct, this is the worst possible way to handle the situation”.

Mr Maduro has a habit of blundering. Not blessed with his predecessor’s common touch, he has made himself a laughing stock on multiple occasions – most recently for falling off his bicycle during an event to promote youth culture.

Meanwhile, the president has alleged 13 conspiracies against his government, blamed the “dark forces” of the US for basic product shortages and daily blackouts, and asserted four separate plots to assassinate him.

Such rhetoric, straight out of the Chavez textbook, is starting to grate upon a public that is suffering more acutely than it ever did under the former leader.

“You can’t get anything”, Carmen Rodriguez, a Caracas mother of three who had waited four hours in a supermarket queue to buy the rationed limit of four bags of flour and eight rolls of toilet paper, said. “The lines are longer and there’s less available. But if you don’t wait in line, you don’t feed your family.

“I voted for Maduro because it’s what Chavez wanted”, she said, rushing away to a different store where she had heard cooking oil was now in stock.

Businessman and socialist backer Julio Gomez, 48, said: “The situation isn’t going to improve as long as Maduro is in charge. He may have all the best intentions, but he’s not respected.”