Bogota, January 16 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Isolated incidents of looting broke out in several Venezuelan states over the weekend, as citizens vented their frustration with the country’s worsening economic crisis.
On Saturday, up to 2000 Venezuelans are reported to have looted a government bank, private and government sponsored food stores, and one liquor store in Guarico state, leading to a stand-off with police who dispersed looters with rubber bullets and tear gas. Up to 249 people are reported to have been arrested in relation to the unrest, though no serious injuries have been reported.
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) January 13, 2018
Speaking during a press conference Sunday, Guarico State-Governor for the governing United Socialist Party Jose Vasquez reported that 22 stores were affected, while a government food storage warehouse was attacked with molotov cocktails. Vasquez suggested the looting may have been infiltrated by criminal elements, and stated that at least ten of the looted stores “were not related in any way to food [provision]”.
January is a traditionally difficult month for Venezuelans given the tendency of the country’s distribution networks to close shop over the holiday period, while savings and end-of-year bonuses are usually eaten up by the festivities.
Nonetheless, the average difficulties of the month have been compounded by this year by soaring inflation, shortages of everyday key staples and an ongoing economic crisis. The situation saw localised looting also break out in Guayana earlier in the month, as well as in other states across the country.
PetroCedeño Workers Demand Dignified Salaries
Meanwhile, workers at the Venezuelan state oil company’s PetroCedeño in Anzoategui state also protested against poor salaries and the general economic situation of the country late last week.
In a video released on Twitter, workers and their representatives said their current salary was not enough to provide for their families, and warned the government that they could “be on the brink of experiencing hunger”.
“There is a precarious situation, the food in the canteen does not always arrive, we do not have toilet paper, or [soap] to wash our hands with, we do not have protective clothing, or a dignified salary,” stated one of the workers’ representatives.
The oil workers also denied private and social media reports that they had temporarily ceased operations from the factory, and accused the media of manipulating the situation. According to their statement, the plant is currently producing 102,000 barrels of oil daily.
“There are no guarimberos (violent opposition protesters) here, just flesh and blood workers who are making their best efforts daily to maintain the plant’s production,” added one of the workers’ representatives.
“Today we are demanding a dignified salary, a salary which guarantees the basic needs of the workers,” he added.
The workers also went on to demand “salary compensation” in dollars, stating that the transnational companies Total S.A. and Statoil which operate from within Venezuela’s Orinoco Oil Belt pay their workers in dollars in all other countries.
“We are not requesting the dollarisation of our salaries, but a salary compensation, given that the economy is practically already dollarised, prices are set according to the dollar,” continued the PetroCedeño workers representative.
Nonetheless, the PetroCedeño workers stated they would not strike in order to achieve their demands or allow the media to manipulate what they called a “workers’ struggle”.
“We are guaranteeing the operation of the plant,” stated workers’ leader Carlos Oyoke.
“We have a commitment to the homeland, we have a commitment to the country, but beyond that, as commander Chavez used to say, there is self-criticism… which is what strengthens us. And as Che said, a revolutionary who turns his back on those in need, from that moment he is no longer revolutionary. He is obligated to raise his voice! And today what we are doing is raising our voices!,” added Oyoke.
The workers’ leader went on to state that the aim of the workers’ protest was to make Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and state oil company President General Manuel Quevedo aware of the hardships currently facing Venezuelan workers.
Oyoke said that many technicians were leaving the plant, but that others were committed to pushing forward national development through the state oil company.
“No one can tell us that we are not revolutionaries. Here there is a workers’ council, the Che Guevara council, that has been at the forefront of political battles, but we can no longer remain silent in the face of injustice,” he said.
Since 2014, Venezuela has been suffering from a deep economic crisis brought about by the drop in global oil prices, a dysfunctional exchange rate system, and a decrease in oil production levels. So far the crisis has been characterised by triple digit inflation, and a shortage of hard cash and everyday staples. Nonetheless, the situation has worsened since December 2017.
At the end of their filmed statement, PetroCedeño workers chanted “We are not guarimberos, we are oil workers”.