CARACAS, VENEZUELA —
Fed up with food shortages and exorbitant prices, Juana Medina joined hands Thursday with dozens of strangers on this capital city's west side to register her fury.
"This political and economic system is killing us with hunger," Medina complained to VOA as she and others formed a human chain to demand that the federal government deliver the pork they'd expected for the holiday season.
Similar anti-hunger demonstrations have surfaced in different regions of Venezuela since Saturday.
"Give us what we were promised. If President [Nicolas] Maduro promised, give it to us!" shouted Patricia, a young protester who identified herself only by her first name.
She was referring to a "Christmas combo," including ham, that the Socialist leader in November had said would be provided to Venezuelans. As of Thursday, the promised food packages had reached few of the most vulnerable of Venezuela's 30 million people.
The president blamed Portugal for the missing meat.
"What happened to the ham? They sabotaged us," Maduro said of the Portuguese on Wednesday. He said he ordered the pork imports and authorized payment, but the Venezuelan government's bank accounts were challenged.
Portugal's foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva, denied any attempt at sabotage. Reuters news agency said he told Portuguese radio station TSF, "The Portuguese certainly has no power to sabotage pork [deliveries]. We live in a market economy. Companies are in charge of exports."
The Portuguese agribusiness Raporal S.A. released a statement saying it denied the sale because Venezuela's government still owes millions for hams sent by the company in 2016, according to Portugal's Diario de Noticias.
Maduro's excuses failed to appease hundreds of demonstrating Venezuelans, who saw the promised hams as a rare protein source in the country's protracted economic crisis.
"My protest is simply because every time we go to the supermarket, the prices are very high and the salary does not stretch," said Caracas protester Mireya Santos. She said of Venezuela, which has the world's largest proven oil reserves but also many malnourished people, "I have a rich but poor country."
According to the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers' Center for Social Analysis, a month's worth of basic food for a family of five cost more than 13 million bolivars – or roughly $130 on the black market – in November. But with the bolivar's plunging value, Venezuela's minimum-wage workers earned less than $4 a month.