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Amidst reports that around 90 percent of Venezuelans can no longer afford to buy food, the Venezuelan food crisis has exacerbated. Opposition protests against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro mobilised a million demonstrators in the nation’s capital Caracas on Thursday. Demonstrators yelling “Venezuela is hungry” and “this government is going to fall” demanded a referendum on removing Maduro from power in what is understood be one of the biggest demonstrations against his government.
The South American nation has seen a deepening of its economic crisis in addition to rampant corruption and crime that have worsened the food shortage. The oil-rich state has faced more than a year of economic decline as a fall in prices has prompted violence and food shortages. Venezuela’s inflation rate stands at 180 percent, the world’s highest. “Venezuela is convulsing from hunger,” the New York Times reported in June. Eighty-seven percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food. “Hungry mobs are increasingly rioting and looting bakeries and food trucks,” the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Nathan Halverson said on PBS.
Schools have also seen a spike in absences as some students report being unable to attend due to a lack of energy as a result of the food crisis. “The school now provides what is sometimes the only meal these children eat. Food has become political,” Halverson reported.
As a result, Thursday saw hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators marching in the capital to persuade President Nicolás Maduro and oust his Socialist government to end the severe food crisis, crime and the skyrocketing levels of inflation. “We either come out to march or we will die of hunger. We are no longer afraid of the government,” said one demonstrator, as reported by the AFP. “This is a historic march. Today begins a definitive stage in this struggle,” another added.
In his speech, Maduro blamed the United States and called the march a cover for a U.S.-backed coup and drawing similarities with the 2002 unrest that briefly ousted his socialist predecessor, the late President Hugo Chavez. “I go with the iron fist that was given to me by Hugo Chávez,” Mr. Maduro said. “Don’t be mistaken; I’m ready to do anything to defend the fatherland and the sovereignty of our people,” he added. “Today has been an example of how to contain fascism in peace,” said Maduro, who was elected three years ago. “We have stopped the coup today, the violent, fascist ambush.”
In recent days, Maduro’s forces have arrested opposition leaders, banned private flights and the use of drones, arrested and deported some foreign reporters, and blocked most entry ways to the capital in an attempt to prevent protesters from converging on the city.