Two people were shot dead as thousands of desperate Venezuelans took part in protests against President Nicolas Maduro over allegations that he was pilfering off the nation’s wealth — as the country’s own people resort to eating garbage or stray animals.
The South American country once commanded a booming economy because of its oil reserves — the largest in the world — but since Maduro came into power, the country has been racked by food shortages and political unrest.
A huge portion of Venezuela’s economy has been nationalized since former President Huge Chavez rose to power in 1999. Since that time, the state took control of private oil, energy, telecommunications and cement businesses and Maduro has continued the tradition — but blames the United States for its political and economic crisis.
“The U.S. government, the state department, have given the green light, the approval for a coup process to intervene in Venezuela," Maduro said in a televised address Tuesday, according to The Guardian.
General Motors has become the latest U.S. corporation to have its assets confiscated by the government of Venezuela. The company said assets, including vehicles, were seized from the factory causing irreversible damage.
Meanwhile, the country is currently fighting claims of illegal asset seizures at a World Bank-sponsored arbitration panel from more than 25 companies.
Last July, Kimberly-Clark Corp. stated it was impossible for it to manufacture its product in the country due to lack of materials. Maduro accused the company of trying to sabotage Venezuela’s economy and took control of one of its factories.
Despite the turbulence in his own country, records show that Maduro donated $500,000 to Donald Trump’s inauguration fund, despite the fact that foreign donations are banned under the United States law.
Citgo Petroleum, a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, was one of the biggest corporate sponsors to the Trump campaign. However, Maduro’s effort to not antagonize the U.S. president has not done him any good.
In February, Trump met the wife of jailed opposition leader at the White House and earlier this week, the State Department condemned the violence against anti-government protesters in Venezuela.
"Those responsible for the criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity ... will be held individually accountable for their actions by the Venezuelan people and their institutions, as well as the international community," the statement read.
Now, Venezuela is experiencing the “mother of all protests” over food scarcity and ballooning inflation. During the protests, a teenage boy, who had not planned on joining the demonstration, was shot in the head and later died in the hospital. Later in the day, a 23-year-old woman named Paola Ramirez was also killed by pro-Maduro groups, bringing the total number of protest-related deaths since March to five.
“This is exhausting — but we won't give up until we achieve a better country and democracy,” Luiza Mayorca, a lawyer and mother of three, told NPR in Caracas. “Every time we do something, that's what we feel: that the worst thing would be to stay home, let fear take over us. This government, this regime, is making life miserable, and we cannot accept it.”
Opposition groups are also demanding re-elections which were indefinitely postponed last year, just a few months after Maduro canceled a recall referendum that could have overthrown his government.