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Venezuelans ransack stores as hunger grips the nation

  • Author: Nicholas Casey, The New York Times
  • Updated: July 1, 2016
  • Published June 19, 2016

A man searches for food at a grocery store that had been looted in Cumana, Venezuela, June 16, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Meridith Kohut/The New York Times)

CUMANÁ, Venezuela — With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation's food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.

Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.

Hundreds of people here in the city of Cumaná, home to one of the region's independence heroes, marched on a supermarket in recent days, screaming for food. They forced open a large metal gate and poured inside. They snatched water, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, potatoes, anything they could find, leaving behind only broken freezers and overturned shelves.

And they showed that even in a country with the largest oil reserves in the world, it is possible for people to riot because there is not enough food.

Hundreds of people wait in line to buy food at a grocery store in Catia, a slum in western Caracas, Venezuela, June 11, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Meridith Kohut/The New York Times)

In the last two weeks alone, more than 50 food riots, protests and mass lootings have erupted around the country. Scores of businesses have been stripped bare or destroyed. At least five people have been killed.

The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself. The economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce enough food on its own or import what it needs from abroad. Cities have been militarized under an emergency decree from President Nicolás Maduro.

About 72 percent of monthly wages are being spent just to buy food, according to the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis. In April, it found that a family would need the equivalent of 16 minimum-wage salaries to properly feed itself.

Students throw rocks and molotov cocktails as police return tear gas and rubber bullets after a protest turned violent in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, June 9, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Meridith Kohut/The New York Times)

Ask people in this city when the last time they ate a meal, and many will respond that it was not today.

Among them are Leidy Cordova, 37, and her five children — Abran, Deliannys, Eliannys, Milianny and Javier Luis — ages 1 to 11. On Thursday evening, the entire family had not eaten since lunchtime the day before.

"My kids tell me they're hungry," Cordova said as her family looked on. "And all I can say to them is to grin and bear it."

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