March 23, 2019
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Wave of looting hits west Venezuela after 5 days without electricity

Caracas, Mar 12 (efe-epa).- Dozens of stores in Maracaibo, the capital of the western Venezuelan state of Zulia, were looted over the past few hours amid an electricity crisis that has kept the oil-rich region in the dark for the last five days, witnesses told EFE.

The mass robberies went on from Sunday to Monday night in various districts of the city, the home of some 2 million citizens.

Violent groups slammed their way into bakeries, supermarkets, electrical appliance stores, shoe stores, jewelers, shopping centers and small stores of all kinds, and emerged loaded down with all the stolen goods they could carry.

Several witnesses interviewed by EFE said the plunderers worked in gangs, and at times faced troops of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), though an official number of those wounded or jailed has not yet been released.

Those sources said that at least 20 businesses were destroyed, from some of which the mobs even stole the furniture.

A great many photos and videos were posted on social media illustrating the dimension of this wave of plundering, while the damage done has not yet been quantified.

Venezuela's chief business association, Fedecamaras, said on Twitter that the economic sector of this state started the day "destroyed by a vandalism that would only serve to make the economic crisis worse with even more shortages."

The blight extended to the nearby city of San Francisco, with a population of some 500,000 people, and where the robbery of mobile phones, tools and devices of all kinds included many televisions, Fedecamaras said.

The Chavista mayor of Maracaibo, Willy Casanova, said on the state TV channel that the city "is at peace" even though citizens face "problems caused by the electricity situation."

"Criminals have taken advantage of these problems to try to upset public order and perpetrate acts of terrorism in the area...but we have dealt with them very firmly," he said without entering into detail.

The electricity service in Zulia began to be reestablished with intermittent problems Monday night, after more than 100 straight hours without power, and even now much of Maracaibo remains in the dark.

According to the Nicolas Maduro government, these power outages are the result of a cyberattack launched by the United States and the local opposition, and have kept the electricity system in a state of instability almost everywhere in the country since Thursday at 2100 GMT.

Another 20 stores were sacked in recent days in the states of Anzoategui in the east, Merida in the west, and in the Caracas district of Baruta, authorities of those jurisdictions told EFE.

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