When two trucks loaded with soldiers pulled up outside his butcher shop in the Barrio Unión slum of eastern Caracas, Daniel felt a deep unease. “They went into all the shops in the area, forcing us to sell at a loss,” says Daniel, not his real name, of the incident earlier this month. The army men demanded that Daniel sell his beef at 250 bolívares (roughly $0.25 at black market rates) a kilo, even though he explained it cost 3,000 bolívars to buy from his suppliers. “They told me the beef belonged to the people and stayed seven hours as a huge queue formed outside. This was militarised,” said Daniel, originally from Portugal. Later he saw television news reports of the coup attempt in Turkey: “My first thought was that the same thing was also happening here.” As socialist Venezuela faces its worst economic crisis in living memory, the country’s armed forces, under the command of defence minister General Vladimir Padrino López, have emerged as a key player. Many were unnerved when Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s unpopular president, this month handed the military extraordinary powers to tackle ravaging shortages in a country where food and basic medicines are increasingly hard to find and the inflation rate is forecast to top 700 per cent.