Venezuela on Wednesday said it was sending 2,000 soldiers to a border state that is a hot spot of anti-government radicalism after looting that killed a 15-year-old in the latest unrest roiling the nation.
Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira State near the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, although looting continued in some poorer sectors, residents said.
People made off with items including coffee, diapers and cooking oil in the OPEC nation, where a brutal economic crisis has made basic foods and medicine disappear from shelves.
Barricades of trash, car tires and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hot spot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Venezuela since early last month to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led Venezuelan National Assembly.
Maduro’s government has accused them of seeking a violent coup and has said many of the protesters are no more than “terrorists.”
State oil company Petroleos de Venezuela also blamed roadblocks for pockets of gasoline shortages in the country on Wednesday.
In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives told reporters.
The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which pushed the death toll in six weeks of unrest to at least 43, equal to that of the 2014 protests.
With international pressure against Venezuela’s government mounting, the UN Security Council on Wednesday turned its attention to the country’s crisis for the first time.
“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation... We’re not looking for Security Council action,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.
“The international community needs to say: ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’... We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma,” she said.
Venezuelan Permanent Representative to the UN Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the US of seeking to topple the Maduro government.
“The US’ meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photographs of vandalism and violence he attributed to opposition supporters.
Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting Venezuelan officials and their family members.
Maduro on Tuesday likened that harassment to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust under the German Nazis.
“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during a Cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David ... we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity, and we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”
Venezuela’s main Jewish group, the Confederation of Israeli Associations in Venezuela, responded with a statement expressing its “absolute rejection” of “banal” comparisons with the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews.
Maduro’s critics have said it is outrageous for officials to spend money on foreign travel when people are struggling to obtain food and children are dying for lack of basic medicines.
However, some opposition sympathizers have said such mob-like harassment is the wrong way to confront the government.
As night fell on Wednesday, thousands of opposition supporters poured onto the streets of different cities for rallies and vigils in honor of the fatalities during protests.
Many carried flags and candles.
“We’ve been in the street for more than 40 days because this government has broken every law, every human right and we cannot bear it anymore,” said demonstrator Eugenia, who asked that her last name not be used.
“This rally is important because we have to retake the streets, we have been scared for too long,” she added, referring to the rampant violent crime that normally stops people from going out after dark.
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