Venezuela protests blamed for 3 deaths, 400 arrests

Residents of the Catia neighborhood rally to protest a lack of food in Caracas on June 14.

(CNN)At least three people are dead as protests and looting surge in Venezuela, an opposition congresswoman said Wednesday.

The protests began Sunday in the Sucre state in the northeastern part of the country. Milagros Paz, who represents the district, said two people were shot to death and a third person died of a heart attack during the looting of his store.
She did not specify who shot the two people. The governor of Sucre, Luis Acuña, who belongs to the ruling PSUV party, said the deaths were unrelated to the disturbances.
    He also said at least 400 suspects had been detained.
    In Cumaná, the capital of Sucre, and in other cities in the area, officials say residents have taken to the streets, looting grocery stores and various shops in protest since Sunday.
    They are protesting severe shortages of food and other necessities.

    Oil prices breed turmoil

    The country has been seeing economic turbulence in part because of the drop in the price of oil, on which it is largely dependent. The country has suffered from political infighting and shortages of electricity, food and medical supplies. It's arguably the worst economy in the world.
    In April, Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro decided to shorten the workweek to two days -- Monday and Tuesday -- in an effort to save energy and electricity. The country's most important source of electricity, El Guri dam, has record-low water levels.
    While oil prices have been creeping up, the plentiful but low-quality Venezuelan crude gets less than market rates, according to Eric Smith, a professor and associate director at the Tulane Energy Institute.
    Now protesters are also demanding political changes, and earlier this month, the head of the Organization of American States accused Maduro of disrupting democracy by blocking the opposition-controlled Congress and putting loyalists in the Supreme Court.
    Last week, riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas grenades at students from the public Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, who demonstrated in demand of a referendum on removing Maduro.
    The country has had its share of similar disturbances this year. In February, a prison in the northwestern part of the country was evacuated after a deadly riot left at least 58 killed and 120 wounded.