CARACAS (Reuters) - Shortages of motorcycle parts in recession-hit Venezuela have become so acute that bikers are being killed for their vehicles, the leader of a local motorcyclist association said.
Socialist-run Venezuela is reeling from shortages of foods, medicines and machinery due in part to currency controls that crimp imports.
That strain appears to have exacerbated theft in the already violence-plagued country where police officers are gunned down for their weapons, trucks ambushed for merchandise and commuters held up for cellphones.
"They're killing those of us in the street to steal our bike because there are no bikes or spare parts," Jorge Montaño, a leader of Venezuela's National Socialist Federation of Motorbikers, said on Thursday.
"Well-dressed women participate in the scam. They ask for a taxi ride, and when you arrive there is a thief waiting to rob you. Sometimes our companions don't want to hand over the motorcycle and they shoot them in the legs or they kill them."
Bikers are prime targets because they zip en masse around the South American country's choked roads every day, added Montaño, who said the federation has millions of members.
He had no national statistics on hand, but said some 17 people have been murdered for their motorbikes in his home state of Vargas this year alone.
Venezuela's Interior Ministry did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Amid a tumble in oil prices, the cash-strapped OPEC member has prioritized food imports and debt servicing, leaving less hard currency for other purchases.
Montaño said he was calling on President Nicolas Maduro to put the federation in charge of importing spare parts from China to prevent a further escalation of crime and alleviate the shortages.
Fellow bikers echoed his worries, with one saying he was now heading home early and paying particular attention at red lights where holdups are common.
"The situation is worsening," said another biker from the west side of Caracas who was held up at gunpoint for his vehicle. "You live life minute-to-minute."
(Reporting by Corina Pons and Alexandra Ulmer, editing by G Crosse)