Venezuela: Vigilantes guard shops after looting rampage in Maracaibo
Vigilantes are standing guard outside stores to prevent looting in Venezuela’s second city, Maracaibo.
A fortnight after the city was plunged into anarchy with hundreds of civilians ransacking more than 500 shops and businesses, the city is still on edge.
It may be no coincidence that the Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has now asked his entire cabinet to resign amid this chaos as he struggles to maintain control.
One looter told Sky News: “I have always been an honest man – and still now, I feel honest. We were driven to this. What can we do?”
The national guard can occasionally be seen parked outside certain large outlets – but it’s mostly down to individual shops to take the law into their own hands.
We met a band of heavily armed men who agreed to talk to us outside one supermarket in the city. “This is Maracaibo,” one heavily tattooed man told us. “We have to do this.” Another said: “It’s them or us. Anyone in our position would do the same.”
It was the long week of a total electricity blackout which finally tipped Maracaibo over into anarchy – a string of days and nights with zero power countrywide.
In broad daylight thousands of people marched into shops in Maracaibo and took what they wanted. The tenuous hold on order in the city was, once and for all, blown apart.
The city’s civilians have struggled under a crumbling infrastructure which has seen many areas without running water for years as well as intermittent power cuts and internet interruptions. Now they had had enough.
And this was different. Every shop owner and hotel manager we spoke to told us how they thought the authorities would step in and help – but no one came.
Many spoke about how the police and collectivos (armed thugs) joined in with the looting. “I stole and then the police stole from me,” one looter told Sky News.
The devastation was extensive at the Hotel Brisas del Norte. Five floors of the hotel were trashed.
Every door was ripped off its hinges. Every ceiling was hacked into and the copper wiring ripped out. Every appliance was taken away; every fitting levered off, including the marble topping on the reception desk.
“It was like terrorism,” said Margelis Romero, the hotel administrator. “They came in with their faces covered and carrying machetes and guns and stayed here for several days destroying everything.”
A look inside the Pepsi factory close by shows the warehouse empty but for plastic bags and wrapping covering the floor.
Our movement disturbs three looters still rifling through the debris to see if they can plunder anything else. They run off into the distance. One of them appears to be carrying a stick.
Maracaibo has settled back into an uneasy calm but the city has tasted lawlessness. No one is quite sure what it will take to tip it once again. What they are sure about is: it will happen again if the situation doesn’t improve for its citizens.
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