Valencia isn't spared

For three days, Venezuela's third largest city has witnessed the worst looting since 1989. The warehouses that store and distribute much of the food Venezuela eats lay bare. There's fear in people’s eyes.

Greater Valencia has seen frenetic scenes in the last 72 hours. Reports, pictures and videos have flooded social networks: people looting supermarkets, shops, warehouses and even factories in every part of the city from north to south, plundering not only food but also everything else from machines, fridges to roof-plates, in what constitutes the worst violence in the city since the February 1989 riots and the worst in the country since the Ciudad Bolívar looting in December.

To give you a sense of the scale of the events, the 18 kilometers that stand between Naguanagua and Flor Amarillo represent roughly the same distance as that between Petare and Tazón. Valencia is Venezuela’s third largest city. Located 120 kilometers from Caracas with around 2 million inhabitants, Valencia is often ignored because of its lack of appeal to tourists. It’s more famous for its now-decrepit industrial zone.

For a month, we’ve seen a daily cycle of protest, barricades and tear gas, usually in the same few places as the 2014 Guarimbas: El Trigal, Prebo, Tazajal, San Diego and Isabelica, with mild participation in new areas. It suddenly escalated on Tuesday, the day after Maduro announced his plans for his fraudulent constituent assembly.

While much of the city was paralyzed by “El Trancazo”, hoodlums took the chance to attack shops in Naguanagua municipality, north of the city, with at least three supermarkets looted on Avenida Universidad by armed groups. Reports from people on the scene stress police not only failed to respond but actually participated in the looting.

On Wednesday, mayhem moved to the south of the city,  popular areas, with heavy looting reported in Flor Amarillo, Isabelica and Bella Florida neighborhoods. Groups of hundreds of people broke into a Central Madeirense supermarket in Isabelica taking everything with them. An INCES technical school was plundered and burned less than 500 meters from the National Guard Core 2 headquarters, with Chinese-owned stores also looted.

A Polar warehouse located near the south highway was looted too. The mobs stole literally everything: food, beers, trucks, roof-plates, toilets. Not far from there, a 21 year old was killed, allegedly by a store-owner whose shop he was trying to break into in the Bella Florida Neighborhood, according to Minister Nestor Reverol’s statements.

Not even this McDonald’s was spared

On Thursday, the violence continued with little response from the police or the GNB. The Mocasa Pasta factory in Bella Florida was looted while it was in operation: this video was filmed by a worker who had to flee the plant while watching helplessly, narrating and breaking into tears as hundreds of people began snatching the company’s equipment.

These pictures are only a taste of a week of lawlessness. At least 70 stores had been reported looted on the press as of Thursday morning, with the number likely higher, considering the all-encompassing media blackout and the fact that the poorer areas have less penetration by social media to document and spread the news.

It’s a dramatic moment for us. People rushed to the supermarkets yesterday frantically buying whatever food their meager salaries would afford to survive for a few days, fearing the looting spree may continue. There’s unprecedented fear in people’s faces. The days of joking about every bit of awful news we get are behind us. This shit is serious.

The Whatsapp groups I’m in have been exploding with messages from all corners, with neighbors in the street organizing, fearing that when the merchandise runs out, the mob will go into private homes. There are reports of owners allowing people to loot the food in their store in an orderly fashion so long as the looters don’t destroy the place. It’s a lot to digest.

We’ve seen this coming for a long time. We’ve been calling for this to happen by saying “que bajen los cerros,” and it’s the consequence of the looting mentality imposed by the government year after year, as it celebrates El Caracazo as some sort of heroic popular revolt against the “greedy” private sector.

The days of joking about every bit of awful news we get are behind us. This shit is serious.

The difference with 1989 may be the media blackout and the lack of repression of today’s explosion, but the result is the same, communities broken and destroyed, owners losing what they’v built in a lifetime of work, people dead. The worst part of it all is that, despite the endgame feeling of these events, Maduro’s regime may only be just starting.