Tensions boil over in Venezuela in president's absence

AP News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2015 11:48 AM
Tensions boil over in Venezuela in president's absence

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A high-profile Venezuelan opposition leader is calling for protests while President Nicolas Maduro travels abroad seeking help for the financially struggling country.

Tensions have escalated in recent days as the socialist administration has deployed troops and implemented a rationing system to control lines for groceries.

Henrique Capriles, who nearly defeated Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, said Monday that it was time for public demonstrations.

"We are in a state of emergency," he said. "This is the time to mobilize in the streets"

Caprilies did not support the protests called by more radical opposition leaders last spring. Those protests wracked the country for months and left more than 40 people dead.

Maduro has been out of the country for more than a week, visiting China and members of the oil cartel OPEC to push for a cut in output. Oil prices have fallen by more than half since June, battering Venezuela's already staggering economy.

Oil accounts for more than 95 percent of the South American country's export earnings.

Venezuela is seeing lines unheard of even in this shortage-plagued nation, with people lining up overnight to buy necessities like soap, milk and diapers. The state has deployed military guards to maintain order as stocks run low after long winter holidays.

Many items have become impossible to find even on the thriving black market. At least one upscale Caracas hotel is no longer providing laundry service unless guests bring their own detergent.

On Monday, police began enforcing a policy that limits patrons to two shopping days a week at government-run supermarkets, where prices are much lower.

Food Security Czar Carlos Osorio drew jeers last week when he said that the existence of long lines proved that Venezuela has plenty of food. Otherwise, he said, there would be nothing to line up for.

Authorities have begun arresting people protesting the shortages. The human rights group Penal Forum reported that a dozen demonstrators were released Monday.

Analysts say more than outside loans, unpopular domestic economic reforms are needed to fix the economy. Last month, Bank of America economist Francisco Rodriguez made headlines by predicting the country could see four-digit annual inflation without such adjustments.

On Monday, Maduro said he had lined up billions of dollars in financing from his Middle East allies "that will give us enough oxygen to cover the fall in oil prices."

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Hannah Dreier on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahdreier