Venezuela unrest chokes transport, worsens economic woes
By Eyanir Chinea
CARACAS Feb 28 (Reuters) - Anti-government protests in Venezuela have left some 1,500 trucks that distribute about half the country's vegetables sitting idle in the western city of La Grita, waiting for roads blocked by demonstrators to be re-opened.
That paralysis is worsening already acute shortages of basic foodstuffs and inflation that hit 56 percent in 2013, two of the factors which, ironically, set alight about a month of street protests in the first place.
At least 17 people have been killed in unrest that has posed the most serious challenge yet to socialist President Nicolas Maduro's 10-month-old administration.
Some transport companies have idled trucks due to the threat of violence as protesters face off against security forces at barricades, especially in the western state of Tachira. Others have parked their vehicles in solidarity with the demonstrators.
"It's not just that we could lose our trucks, or their contents, we could lose our lives too," said Freddy Rosales, spokesman for a group of vegetable producers in La Grita. "They (the protesters) already looted one truck and burned a tanker."
La Grita is a central distribution point for Tachira state, which produces about half the fruit and vegetables consumed in Venezuela, a country of some 29 million people.
While student-led opposition protests in the capital Caracas have lost steam this week, confrontations continue in Tachira.
Business leaders estimate that deliveries nationwide of basic goods, including eagerly sought staples such as toilet paper, milk and flour, have fallen to about half their normal level since the start of February because of blocked roads. Continuación...