Caracas chaos: Venezuelan general on the run
Death in the streets, rationing by fingerprints and a general on the run: how oil-rich Venezuela has descended into chaos
The instructions were straight from the pages of a thriller. We were to park our vehicle in an underground car park, leave behind our mobile phones to avoid tracking, walk through a shopping mall and make our way to another garage in the basement.
We followed the directions and were duly greeted by a flash of headlights.
The driver then screeched off a one-hour night-time dash through the protest-filled streets of Caracas, frequently doubling back and stopping to ensure that there was no tail, until we pulled up on a dimly lit suburban road.
A stocky bearded figure, baseball cap pulled low on his brow, hopped in to the front seat. “Good evening,” he said in heavily accented English before giving the driver the address for a nearby safe-house.
The new passenger was Antonio Rivero, a former general who went into hiding in February to avoid arrest for his role in the protests that have rocked the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Moving into Spanish, he apologised for the subterfuge involved in our rendezvous.
“These are bad times for our country and we are having to take extraordinary measures,” he said in his first interview since going underground.
Outside, the sounds and smells of a deeply fractured land were inescapable.
Eye-stinging tear gas fired by security forces mixed with smoke from the Molotov cocktails thrown by marchers, while the chants of protestors were punctured by supportive blasts from motorists’ horns.
The student-led unrest began in San Cristobal in Venezuela’s “wild west” near the Colombia border two months ago and has quickly spiralled into a nationwide movement during which at least 39 people have been killed.
The country is mired in a dangerous cycle of economic crisis and violent chaos, polarised between government loyalists in areas heavily dependent on state support and protestors who have taken to the streets over soaring crime rates, surging inflation and shortages of basic goods.
With the world’s largest known oil reserves, Venezuela should be reaping windfall gains. Yet in another sign of its parlous economics, the government has just announced a new rationing system using fingerprint registration to track purchases of subsidised but scarce foodstuffs milk, flour and rice.
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