By Mariana Zuñiga and Nick Miroff
15 September 2016
BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Washington Post) – The hunt for food started at 4 a.m., when Alexis Camascaro woke up to get in line outside the supermarket. By the time he arrived, there were already 100 people ahead of him.
Camascaro never made it inside. Truckloads of Venezuelan troops arrived in the darkness, arresting him and nearly 30 others seemingly pulled from the queue at random, according to his lawyer. Camascaro, 50, was charged with violating laws against interfering “directly or indirectly” with the production, transportation or sale of food. He has been in jail for three months awaiting a hearing.
“I went to see the prosecutors and explained that he was just buying some food for his family. He’s not a bachaquero,” said Lucía Mata, Camascaro’s attorney, using the Venezuelan term for someone who buys scarce, price-capped or government-subsidized goods to resell on the black market.
Camascaro was snared in a new crackdown on Venezuelan shoppers, part of President Nicolás Maduro’s attempt to assert greater control over food distribution and consumption. Maduro blames this oil-rich country’s chronic scarcities on an “economic war” against his government waged by foreign enemies, opposition leaders, business owners and smuggling gangs.
Many economists attribute the shortages to simpler, less conspiratorial factors. Price controls and excessive regulation, they say, have discouraged domestic production, making Venezuelans ever more dependent on imported food. But after the slump in petroleum prices, hard currency for imports is lacking, leaving supermarket shelves bare. […]
In a country with one of the world’s highest homicide rates, and where carjackings, muggings and kidnappings often go unpunished, the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained at least 9,400 people this year for allegedly breaking laws against hoarding, reselling goods or attempting to stand in line outside normal store hours, according to the Venezuelan human rights organization Movimiento Vinotinto. Many were taken into custody by the Venezuelan troops assigned to police the checkout aisles and the long lines snaking into supermarkets. [more]