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Oil price collapse results in violence, hunger and malnutrition

Northern Venezuela

The northern region of Venezuela, particularly the state of Sucre and district capital Caracas, was gripped by violence and death in the summer of 2016. The unrest was a result of a steep fall in Venezuelan oil prices, which had led to severe shortages in food and basic necessities, as imports became unaffordable.

The backdrop

Since taking office in 2013, President Nicolas Maduro has been blamed for continuing his predecessor’s failed socialist economic policies. Years of mismanagement have left the country more dependent on imports. As oil accounts for 95% of Venezuela’s export revenue, the country took a major blow to its income when prices declined, and declared a state of economic emergency in early 2016.

The resulting food shortages worsened and the ensuing anger promoted unrest amongst Venezuelans. The political opposition made efforts to call a referendum to oust President Maduro while government councils stymied these efforts.

The armed forces were granted power to resolve social unrest and General Vladimir Padrino Lopez was promoted to Minister of Defence. The military took control of all food transportation and distribution, controlling prices and simulating production, in addition to guarding the ports, running Venezuela’s largest bank and managing a television station.

The escalation and event

22 February 2016

Despite the introduction of a two-day working week to save electricity costs and increasing the price of the state-subsidised petrol, oil prices were still cheaper than a bottle of mineral water.

10 June 2016

Food riots, record inflation and rolling power blackouts continue. Venezuela was still making debt payments in billions of dollars of foreign-currency bonds even as hospitals lack the cash to pay for antibiotics.

President Maduro has insisted that the country will continue to meet debt payments, announcing plans to cut imports by almost half to preserve hard currency. People are spending an average of 35 hours a month in food lines. Protest are getting more violent from people's frustration of ongoing food scarcities.

14 June 2016

Violence from a food protest in front of a food store in Cariaco, central Sucre, left a 21-year-old shot dead. Over 20 businesses were ransacked violently. Four hundred people were detained during the food protests; some of whom were minors.

In suburban Caracas, a four-year-old girl was shot while standing in line with her mother outside a government-owned grocery store.

Meanwhile, increased security presence led to a spontaneous food riot in Cumana. Two deaths and 150 arrests were reported.

15 June 2016

A motorcycle gang fight broke out over control of food distribution outside a store. The dispute resulted in gunfire, injuring eight people.

Most shops in north eastern Puerto La Cruz, in the state of Anzoategui, remained closed for fear of looting.

A 17-year old boy died in the hospital after being shot in a food riot in Cumana. At this time, at least ten looting incidents a day were taking place across Venezuela, many of them dispersed by tear gas and riot batons.

2 July 2016

An orderly line of shoppers spontaneously combusted into a mob of looters in Caracas. The stampede crushed an 80-year-old woman to death.

Nearby, a 25-year-old youth standing in line attempted to escape muggers. He was shot dead and then robbed while the line behind him remained unmoved, witnessing the crime.

11 July 2016

In a televised address, President Maduro announced that all ministers and state institutions are at the service of General Padrino.

In July 2016 alone, more than 200,000 Venezuelans crossed the border to Colombia in search of basic food and medicine. Over the previous twelve months, violent outbreaks and riots saw over 24 people killed while queuing, 30 injured and over 400 arrested. Hunger and malnutrition showed no signs of abating.  

Early intervention


  • Prioritising civilians' needs over meeting sovereign debt payments.
  • More transparent and democratic systems – deter corrupt officials from stymieing the proposed referendum.
  • Effective economic policies.
  • Diversify national revenues so as to avoid export collapse.

During the event

  • Acknowledging people’s grievances and calls to maintain peace.
  • Request aid from the international community.
  • Increase security only where absolutely necessary – increased security tended to result in violent outbursts and riots.
  • Request and allow peaceful gatherings and protests.
  • Avoid the use of tear gas, riot batons and violence when dispersing potentially aggressive protests/riots.
  • Encourage security to be focussed on preventing crime/gun violence.

Key themes

Food shortages, government, inflation, reliance on imports, unrest, queuing.


  1. Hider, J., 22 February 2016. Venezuela teeters on brink of default after oil price collapse. The Times.
  2. 16 June 2016. Food riots rocking Venezuela turn deadly. Prince Albert Daily Herald.
  3. Kraul, C. and Mogollan, M., 16 June 2016. 5 dead, 200 arrested in Venezuela protest. Chicago Tribune.
  4. 17 June 2016. Hundreds arrested in looting, food riots in Venezuela. The New Zealand Herald.
  5. Dreier, H., 2 July 2016. Life on the line in Venezuela as economic crisis worsens. AP Worldstream, New York.
  6. Kurmanev, A., 13 July 2016. Venezuela army takes over food supply – amid shortages and food riots, president gives armed forces full control of distribution. Wall Street Journal, Brussels, Europe.
  7. Sanchez, F. and Goodman, J., 13 July 2016. Venezuela’s defence minister gets oversight job; decision comes amid food scarcity, social unrest. Chronicle – Herald, Halifax N.S.
  8. Redmond, J. and Stinson, T., 14 July 2016. Crisis in Venezuela: Georgians mobilize to help Venezuela: Food, medicine sent to nation struggling with riots, looting. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  9. Schipani, A., 30 July 2016. Venezuela army tightens grip as food riots grow. The Financial Times.
  10. Haesly, K.B., 2016. How to solve a problem like Venezuela? An argument for virtual currency. Law and Business Review of the Americas, 22(3), p261.
  11. Moore, E. and Schipani, A., 10 June 2016. Venezuela keeps paying foreign lenders despite blackouts and food queue riots. The Financial Times.
  12. Wikipedia, 2019. Venezuela-Colombia Migrant Crisis [online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuela–Colombia_migrant_crisis (accessed 3 September 2019).


Oil price collapse results in violence, hunger and malnutrition - PDF