An archbishop in Venezuela warned that desperation is growing in the country, as the national coronavirus quarantine measures have compounded a tenuous political and economic situation. He urged people in the country to resist violence and social unrest.
Extreme hunger “does not reason or know rules,” said Archbishop Ulises Gutiérrez of Ciudad Bolívar, adding that this desperate hunger “is becoming a fuel more dangerous than gasoline.”
Gutiérrez spoke with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, in an April 23 interview, after looting and protests broke out in seven states in Venezuela.
Protestors objected to price hikes on food and a gasoline shortage exacerbated by the ongoing quarantine that was imposed last month to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest government report, there have been 298 cases and 10 deaths in the country due to the virus.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Some 4.5 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.
The current COVID-19 quarantine is “aggravating the situation,” the archbishop said, noting that the quarantine was implemented without accompanying measures to protect the most vulnerable.
As a result, families are suffering, and many cannot access clean water, electricity or gasoline.
The country is experiencing “a totally destroyed economy in which agricultural producers can’t get their products out because they’re not getting gasoline supplied to them, or they have to buy it on the black market for 2 or 3 dollars a liter,” he said. In some cases, crops are rotting in farmers’ fields due to lack of fuel to transport them to market.
Gutiérrez voiced concern over the hunger-fueled looting and protests throughout the country, as well as the government’s violent suppression of the protests.
“The common denominator in all these protests is hunger,” he stressed.
With equipment in short supply and many of the country’s doctors have already emigrated due to the political and economic crisis, Gutiérrez acknowledged, the pandemic poses a significant threat.