Venezuela’s desperate housewives

Venezuelan armed forces are patrolling the streets of Sabaneta in President Hugo Chavez’s home state of Barinas after crowds looted a warehouse used to stockpile basic food items sold in the government-run Mercal grocery store chain.

Mercal The episode is an embarrassment for Chavez, whose brother is Sabaneta’s mayor, and highlights public rage over the ongoing shortages of milk, pasta, chicken, cooking oil, tuna and other basic foodstuffs.

Local authorities declined to estimate how many tons of goods were stolen but said some 200 uniformed police and military personnel were guarding local stores.

Mayor Chavez told the El Nacional newspaper, apparently with a straight face, that the United States and “its henchmen” were responsible for the looting.

Looters “broke in violently and demanded milk,” town council chief Helena Angulo told Reuters. “They took everything.”

She made no apparent reference to gringo malevolence. Economists blame scarcities on Chavez’s price controls that have made staples uneconomical for farmers to produce.

— Chris Kraul in Caracas

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