43 dead in Venezuela riots against socialist government as oil production tanks

by WorldTribune Staff, May 18, 2017

Venezuela deployed 2,000 soldiers to San Cristobal in Tachira state on May 17 in an effort to curb protests against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal were closed and guarded by soldiers after widespread looting amid a deepening economic crisis.

San Cristobal is the cradle of the current wave of protests against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. / AFP

People made off with items including coffee, diapers, and cooking oil, Reuters reported. Barricades of trash, car tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city near Venezuela’s border with Colombia.

“We’ve been in the street for more than 40 days because this government has broken every law, every human right, and we cannot bear it anymore,” said one demonstrator, Eugenia, who asked that her last name not be used.

“This rally is important because we have to retake the streets, we have been scared for too long,” she added, referring to the rampant violent crime that normally stops people from going out after dark.

The government has not published inflation data for more than a year. However, annual rates are well into the triple digits and are expected to soar higher.

“With the greatest oil riches in the world, Venezuela’s people seek food in rubbish … the elderly faint in lines to seek food and medicines. It’s as if we are victims of a curse,” said Julio Borges, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly.

Protesters are demanding new elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature, the Reuters report said.

Maduro’s government accused the protesters of seeking a violent coup and says many of them are no more than “terrorists.”

In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives said. The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which pushed the death toll in six weeks of unrest to at least 43.

The United Nations Security Council on May 17 turned its attention to the crisis in Venezuela.

“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation … we’re not looking for Security Council action,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.

“The international community needs to say, ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’ … We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma.”

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the United States of seeking to topple the Maduro government.

“The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photos of vandalism and violence he said was caused by opposition supporters.

Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.

Maduro likened the accosting of officials to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust under the Nazis.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during a recent cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David … we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

Venezuela’s main Jewish group, the Confederation of Israeli Associations in Venezuela, responded with a statement expressing its “absolute rejection” of “banal” comparisons with the Holocaust that killed six million Jews.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s oil industry is on the verge of collapse, reports said.

As of April, oil production stood at 1.956 million barrels per day, down 10 percent from last year, and down more than 17 percent from 2015 levels – and output continues to trend downward, OilPrice.com reported.

James Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics, told Marketwatch in March that he expects Venezuela to lose another 200,000 to 300,000 bpd this year.

Three out of Venezuela’s four oil refineries are operating significantly below capacity because of the inability to find spare parts for maintenance, according to Reuters.

Analysts are growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of huge disruption in Venezuelan oil exports.

“Oil production continues its downward drift due to service provider cuts, power shortages, inability to obtain imports and irregular salary payments,” Helima Croft, commodities strategist at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a recent report. “The oil question is whether current conditions could set the stage for the type of industrial action that cut exports by nearly 80 percent in the early 2000s.”