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In wake of protests, destruction

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Protests in Venezuela have led to looting. Protests in Venezuela have led to looting.
Protests in Venezuela have led to looting. AFP/ Federico Parra

Andrea Martinez was left to survey what was left of her bakery.

As clashes between police and anti-government protesters caused chaos in the streets, looters took the opportunity to raid businesses, including that of Martinez. 

Broken display cabinets, trays on the floor, empty refrigerators: there was not a single slice of bread left when she came back to her shop. The looters took everything, including two heavy machines, which they left abandoned in the middle of the street.

The store is located in a section of Caracas that saw the heaviest fighting between police and protesters. The looters came at night, when police had retreated and left the streets unguarded.

Martinez, 50, couldn't get to her store due to roadblocks until the morning.

"When we arrived we thought it was just something small, not the destruction in which they left all this," she said, her voice broken and her eyes swollen with tears. 

"Neighbors tell us that they used tools to force the bars, to force the locks, to break the walls, they did not do it with stones," she added, dismissing the notion that the culprits were demonstrators.

In this polarized country, the government of President Nicolás Maduro blamed the opposition for the vandalism and vice versa, the same as last week when 14 businesses were looted in Los Teques, near Caracas, amid clashes between authorities and demonstrators.

The scars of violence are evident as soon as you get to El Paraíso: the ashes of burned garbage, stones and even a remnant of tear gas. The robbery of Martinez's store was not the only one on that street, located a few blocks from a barracks of the National Guard. 

An adjoining bookstore was vandalized with all the windows being broken, while all the beer was taken from the tavern next to it. 

With buckets of water, Albino Gómez cleans the ceramic floor of this bar. He has been working there for 32 years and it is the second time that he has seen the type of damage - the first was during the massive protests of 2014 that left 43 dead.

"It's the underworld up there," said this gray-haired man in reference to a nearby slum. 

Pots, chairs and an old TV are part of what they took away. The thieves also opened a hole in the wall to access the storeroom where the liquor was stored.

Martinez said she doesn't know if she can recover. 

"They took everything. I do not know how we will recover, only with the mercy of God," she said.

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