SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) - A Venezuelan woman died on Monday after being shot in the face when looters raided state food warehouses, her family said, in the latest unrest in the crisis-hit OPEC nation.
Relatives of hotel worker Jenny Ortiz, 42, said she died in hospital after being shot during the melee late on Sunday in San Cristobal, a town near the border of Colombia, where looting and antigovernment protests have occurred in recent months.
Family including her mother-in-law Carmen Rosa, 58, who said she saw the incident, alleged that a policeman shot Ortiz.
Authorities did not comment on that accusation, though local police said armed criminals had fired on police and an investigation was under way.
“The warehouses were supposedly full of food and the people need food,” Rosa told Reuters at the morgue where her daughter-in-law’s corpse was taken, saying about 500 local residents had descended on the premises.
When security forces chased some of the crowd after they broke in, “they jumped down a bank to protect themselves, and a policeman who was pursuing them shot her. They shot her in the face,” she added.
Looting, lynchings and violent protests have been on the rise this year as Venezuela’s economic crisis has deepened. The country of 30 million is plagued by shortages of food and other basics, and inflation is the highest in the world.
A local nongovernmental organization said at least 641 protests took place in Venezuela in May. More than a quarter were attributed to shortages of food. There have been more than 250 lootings or intentions of looting this year, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.
While the opposition coalition blames socialist President Nicolas Maduro and is seeking a referendum to recall him, the government says political foes are fanning the crisis with an “economic war” and seeking a coup against him.
Vielma Mora, a ruling Socialist Party member who governs the state including San Cristobal, confirmed the woman’s death and said it happened after several days of looting.
“These are plans orchestrated by the right wing,” he said. “We hope to capture the person responsible.”
The fall in oil prices has heaped pain on Venezuela, which depends on crude for about 95 percent of export revenue.
Venezuelans’ patience is wearing thin as they skip meals, survive on yucca or mangoes, and grapple with supermarkets unable to provide food for lines that can stretch into the thousands.
Additional reporting by Corina Pons, Eyanir Chinea and Girish Gupta in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by James Dalgleish and Matthew Lewis