|Riot policemen protect themselves from molotov cocktails thrown by anti-government activists during a protest,
in Caracas on March 31, 2014. (AFP Photo / Juan Barreto)
Clashes erupted once again in the Venezuelan capital on Monday night, as hooded activists erected barricades on the streets of Caracas, causing massive disruption. Protesters smashed shop windows and set fire to cars before the riot police arrived and dispersed them using tear gas and water cannons.
Elsewhere in the west of Venezuela violence was reported in the cities of Maracaibo and San Cristobal, killing two people and bringing the total death toll in Venezuela to 39.
|Anti-government activists clash with riot police during a protest, in Caracas on March 31, 2014.
(AFP Photo / Juan Barreto)
One protester was electrocuted in San Cristobal while trying to reinforce a barricade, and another died in Maracaibo when a homemade explosive device detonated in his hands before he could throw it at police.
Protests have been held throughout Venezuela for the past month and a half, with the population frustrated over inflation, mass power cuts and a lack of basic goods. The Venezuelan government claims that the largely peaceful protest movement has been hijacked by extremist, right-wing, political elements backed by the US, whose aim is to ouster President Nicolas Maduro.
President Maduro Issues ID Cards To Curtail Food Hoarding
|President Nicolas Maduro|
Battling food shortages, the government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet toward rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it.
President Nicolas Maduro’s administration says the cards to track families’ purchases will foil people who stock up on groceries at subsidized prices and then illegally resell them for several times the amount.
Critics say it’s another sign the oil-rich Venezuelan economy is headed toward Cuba-style dysfunction.
Registration begins at more than 100 government-run supermarkets across the country Tuesday, and working-class shoppers who sometimes endure hours-long lines at government-run stores to buy groceries at steeply reduced prices are welcoming the plan.
“The rich people have things all hoarded away, and they pull the strings,” said Juan Rodriguez, who waited two hours to enter the government-run Abastos Bicentenario supermarket near downtown Caracas on Monday, and then waited another three hours to check out.
Rigid currency controls and a shortage of U.S. dollars make it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to find imported basic products like milk, flour, toilet paper and cooking oil. Price controls don’t help either, with producers complaining that some goods are priced too low to make a profit and justify production.
As of January, more than a quarter of basic staples were out of stock in Venezuelan stores, according to the central bank’s scarcity index. The shortages are among the problems cited by Maduro’s opponents who have been staging protests since mid-February.
Landlords Order To Sell Homes In 60 Days Or Face Fine Of £24,000 In Wild Bid To Plug Housing Shortage
Landlords in Venezuela have been ordered to sell any property they have owned for more than 20 years – or face a £24,000 fine.
Those who do not pay the penalty within five days will be evicted, and the state will seize the property.
The unprecedented scheme, announced with immediate effect on Monday, is a wild bid by the nation’s government to plug the huge housing shortage.
To prevent a dip in the market, the decree rules landlords can only charge a ‘fair price’ for their homes – that must be submitted to the government prior to the sale.
Guideline prices will be published once the inflation rate for this year has been calculated. In 2013, it rose to 56.2 per cent.
|A water cannon of the national police burns after being hit with Molotov cocktails thrown by anti-government
protesters during riots in Chacao district in Caracas March 31, 2014. (Reuters / Christian Veron)
The law has been met with a barrage of criticism from the real estate industry, with experts warning it will fuel a new form of black market renting.
Roberto Orta, president of The Rented Properties Association (Apiur) in Caracas, blasted the law as ‘unconstitutional’, claiming it will strip ‘legitimate’ owners of their livelihood.
He told Noticias24: ‘Many of these buildings are occupied by elderly people who often aren’t eligible for bank loans, so many of them won’t be able to pay.’
Housing in Venezuela has been plummeting for 15 years, as the population grows and the slums crumble.
Catastrophic floods left 140,000 residents homeless, further fuelling the problem.
The late president Hugo Chavez initiated eight construction plans during his tenure – the last one promising to build 2 million units by 2017 using oil funds – but they had little effect.
Blaming the crisis on ‘the curse of capitalism,’ he vowed to voters he had taken the matter on as a ‘personal’ project.
|Crisis: Venezuela has been facing a housing struggle for more than a decade, which was worsened by
devastating floods in 2011 that left more than 140,000 people homeless
In 2011, ahead of the general election, he launched a list for people in slums to sign up for yet-to-be-built homes.
Tens of thousands put their names down for the homes, and Chavez was praised for ‘political genius’.
But Maduro’s scheme has sparked fears that the country is heading towards dysfunctional state control similar to Cuba.
On Monday, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua called for dialogue with the opposition to avoid the threat of civil war. He told the private channel, Globovision, that there was an element of the opposition loyal to the United States that is pushing for an armed conflict.
“The president has said: ‘let’s negotiate without conditions, without preconceived agendas to stop this irrational violence that has killed almost 40 men and women,’” said Jaua, adding the Venezuelan government is waiting for a gesture of goodwill from the opposition.
|A National Guard member shoots during anti-government protest, in Caracas on March 31, 2014.
(AFP Photo / Juan Barreto)
The US has denied any involvement in the mass protests in Venezuela and has accused Maduro’s government of using Washington as a scapegoat. Last week US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said that the US had not ruled out the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Latin American country. She said financial penalties could become an “important tool” in pressuring Maduro into negotiations with the opposition.
In response, the Venezuelan government accused Washington of meddling in Venezuelan affairs and “ignoring the democratic process.”
WATCH: Fresh street battles as Venezuela protest death toll hits 39.
Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors have also rallied in support of Maduro’s government. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica told the press on Monday that the US should respect Venezuela and let it find its own way out of the current crisis.
“The first thing that Venezuela and all of Latin America needs is to be respected,” said Mujica. “When the whole world urges the US to rescind its embargo policy on Cuba, voices in Washington threaten sanctions on Venezuela. Have they learnt nothing from history?”