Venezuelan teen killed during looting of flour truck on highway

BARINAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - A teenager was shot and killed during the looting of a flour truck in Venezuela’s plains, according to a police report seen on Wednesday, the latest food-related casualty in the collapsing economy where millions are unable to eat properly.

Jose Materan, 19, was fatally wounded during a showdown with police officers trying to prevent looting on a highway near a slum in the rural state of Portuguesa on Tuesday evening, the report said.

Another man, who was not identified, was wounded and taken to hospital. The police arrested four people with bags of flour, the report added.

There has been an increase in looting and scattered protests in the South American OPEC member in the last few weeks, as a fourth straight year of painful recession and the world’s highest inflation leaves millions short of food.

Critics blame President Nicolas Maduro for Venezuela’s economic mess, saying he has persisted with failed statist policies for too long while turning a blind eye to rampant corruption and suffering.

His leftist government says it is the victim of an “economic war” by political opponents and business-friendly foreign powers, intent on bringing down Maduro in a coup to get their hands on Venezuelan oil reserves.

In what they said was an attempt to combat “speculation,” authorities last week forced over 200 supermarkets to slash prices, creating chaos as desperate Venezuelans leapt at the chance to buy cheaper food.

But the measure has left some supermarkets devoid of many fruits and vegetables, with employees saying they are not sure if the merchandise will be replenished.

Poor Venezuelans have been forced to survive on cheap starches, cut back on meals, scavenge through garbage, or beg in front of supermarkets and bakeries.

Malnutrition is on the rise, especially among children, and Maduro’s opponents warn the situation is set to become more dire this year.

Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Sandra Maler