Protesters in working-class western Caracas hijacked trucks belonging to Venezuela's number one private food chain, Polar, on February 18, demanding the company cease hoarding essential goods.
The Polar food and beverage conglomerate is Venezuela's largest private food provider, selling a range of products from beer to corn flour. But its owner, millionaire businessman Lorenzo Mendoza, has been consistently embroiled in scandal.
He is accused by both Venezuela's socialist government and its grassroots supporters of hoarding food, misappropriating state-subsidised dollars for imports and conspiring with right-wing politicians to oust the nation's elected government. Mendoza denies the allegations.
One protester said: “We communities in Catia decided to come out onto the streets in protest, one because there is not food to be got, and two, against the Polar business.”
A video of the ensuing demonstration made public by the community media initiative “LaOtraTV” (The Other TV) showed at least five trucks parked on by the side of the road, just outside the Polar warehouse in Catia. They were daubed with slogans such as “release the food, Lorenzo Mendoza” and “we don't want poison, we want food for the people”.
The practice of hijacking vehicles to express political grievances has a long history in Venezuela -- especially in urban working class zones in Caracas.
One Catia resident, who demanded that food be handed over to communities for direct distribution, said: “In Catia more than 100 trucks with beer and fizzy drinks enter on a daily basis … but no trucks with food! That's why we have taken a decision to put pressure on Polar, those carrying out destabilisation and smuggling.”
In the video dozens of protesters surround the vehicles, some wearing pro-government t-shirts, chanting, “we want food, we don't want beer”, and waving home made-banners. Some accused Polar of flooding the working-class barrios with beer in order to “poison” residents, whilst others said they were sick of queuing to buy food.
“We know that they have warehouses full of food, but here in the barrio they're selling beer,” said another resident on the video.
Troops from the National Bolivarian Armed Forces also appear guarding the trucks in the video, although authorities have yet to release an official reaction to the events.
In a press release on Polar's webpage, the conglomerate claims that the vehicles were hijacked after drivers were “violently intercepted” by a group on motorbikes. It stated that it would temporarily cease distribution in the area as a result of the incident, and accused the government of stoking popular resentment against the business.
“This situation generated a momentary interruption in distribution to the zone, until the situation is normalised and the safety of the franchise holders and transport employees can be guaranteed,” reads the statement.
The official communication did not respond to the protesters' allegations of hoarding.
[Reprinted from Venezuela Analysis.]