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Venezuela will get help to overcome an ongoing shortage of food, medicine and other products, foreign ministers from 12 South American nations gathering in Caracas have promised.

The regional UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) bloc agreed with President Nicolas Maduro to provide items that have gone missing from many Venezuelan supermarkets.

The shortage of staples has contributed to popular discontent.

UNASUR highlighted the importance of safeguarding democratic stability.

“The idea is to get all the countries to support the distribution of staples,” said Ernesto Samper, Secretary-General of UNASUR.UNASUR Venezuela food shortage

“We will work together with the Venezuelan authorities to strengthen the distribution networks in our countries so they help Venezuela,” the Colombian said.

Ernesto Samper criticized recent anti-government protests in Venezuela that descended into violence.

The opposition must “express its opinions in a democratic, peaceful and lawful manner,” said Ernesto Samper.

The UNASUR ministers will meet opposition leaders and government officials in the next few days to seek guarantees that Venezuela will be able to hold free and fair elections later this year.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles told the AFP on March 3 that Nicolas Maduro could cancel the vote, which is scheduled for the second half of this year.

“The government had never had such a large deficit [in the polls] heading into an election. Now it does. How does it change that? It rigs the game,” said Henrique Capriles.

Nicolas Maduro said the elections would go ahead as planned.

He has recently accused the opposition and the United States of plotting a coup against his government.

The mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arrested last month and has been charged with conspiracy.

Nicolas Maduro accuses Venezuela’s business elite of boycotting his government.

Last month, owners of several chains of supermarkets of drugstores were arrested for allegedly artificially creating long queues.

They reduced the number of employees working on cash tills in order to create queues and “annoy the Venezuelan people”, said Nicolas Maduro.

The economic crisis in Venezuela has been made worse by falling oil prices in international markets.

The Venezuelan opposition blames the socialist policies of the past 16 years for the crisis.

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