HUNGER IN VENEZUELA
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has published its most recent report of the series “The State of the World”, entitled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019”. This is the third consecutive year this report has been prepared by various UN agencies such as FAO, FIDA, WHO, WFP, and UNICEF.
This annual report monitors the issues of “hunger, food insecurity, and malnourishment in the world” in a display of the UN agencies commitment of working in the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” which was adopted by member States, including our own, to achieve the “Development Goals” for 2030. In this particular case, the agencies work to achieve the Development Goal listed as number two, “Zero Hunger” for 2030.
However, the report is far from encouraging. In it, it states that “More than 820 million people in the world are still hungry today”. It also indicates that “another disturbing fact is that about 2 billion people in the world experience moderate or severe food insecurity. The lack of regular access to nutritious and sufficient food that these people experience puts them at greater risk of malnutrition and poor health.”
The UN agencies reflect the paradox: this phenomenon is taking place at the same time technology is experiencing a meteoric growth in an ever more interconnected and globalized economy. Nonetheless, it is an unbalanced growth. Many countries do not register such growth rates: the economy, conflicts, instability, and, above all, inequalities, seriously hinder the possibilities to achieve the 2030 Development Goals, including ending hunger and poverty.
In the case of Venezuela, the report published by FAO is utterly devastating. This indicates that 6.8 million Venezuelans live with hunger in the country. In other words, 2.2 out of every 10 people face hunger, defined as people that “have likely run out of food, experienced hunger and, at the most extreme, gone for days without eating, putting their health and well-being at grave risk.” (FAO Op.cit.)
There was an increase of 21.2% in hunger rates in the period 2013–2018 (maduro’s first term in as president), which means, an increase of more than 17.2% of hungry Venezuelans in the country.
The prevalence of undernourishment is the traditional indicator by FAO used to monitor hunger at global and regional levels. (FAO “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019”, figure 8)
The chart shows how until 2012, this indicator remained below the average of 5.3% in South America and 6.8% in Latin America and the Caribbean. FAO explains that “The increase observed in recent years (in South America) is due to the economic slowdown in several countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where the PoU increased almost fourfold, from 6.4 percent in 2012 — 2014 to 21.2 percent in 2016 — 2018”
Between 2009 and 2011, our rate was only 3.1%. If compared to the current 21.2%, it is worth asking, what has happened during the period of the madurismo? Let us see.
The first thing the madurismo would argue is that this report by FAO is “part of the war against the country” and that the director of FAO, José́ Graziano da Silva, “wrote it in the offices of Elliott Abrams”, as they disrespectfully addressed the report of the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. But the truth is that this new UN report comes from the same agency, FAO, which recognized in 2012 the achievements of the government of Chávez in “eradicating hunger and extreme poverty in the country”.
They would likely argue that “with maduro, the oil prices dropped to unprecedented levels in the history of the country”, and not as with Chávez, when “it was very easy to make a revolution with the price of oil at 100”, as they rudely and inconsiderately say about the Bolivarian government, obviously lying because they omit that, when Chávez came to power in 1999, our basket price was 11 dollars a barrel; they forget that in January 2003 we produced only 23 thousand barrels of oil per day because of the oil sabotage; and, that in January 2009 (when the hunger rate was only 3.1% as the chart above shows), the oil price was 30 dollars a barrel, a price that we later recovered with a dramatic cut in the production of 4.5 million of barrels of oil per day as established by OPEC, of which we had to cut 364 thousand barrels per day, which led our production of oil from 3.374 million of barrels per day to 3.010 million of barrels per day until 2013.
Additionally, the madurismo and its propaganda always kept silence on the sanctions imposed in 2010, when the United States sanctioned PDVSA, accusing it of having relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Illegal sanctions and absurd accusations since Iran, an OPEC founding member, held relations with our country, as well as with all the other OPEC members. But, also, they forget to mention that although the sanctions against PDVSA were harsh, we were able to manage the crisis, seek our technological sovereignty, and resort to alternative markets, as a result of our diversification policy. The impact of those sanctions was never felt in the country; there was gasoline, cooking gas, and oil production. There was no hunger.
They probably allege that these figures related to hunger in the country are the result of the “economic war” and the “sanctions”. But by seeing the chart above, it is easy to realize that it is since maduro’s government the data about hunger in the country skyrocket, long before the 2017 sanctions. Why?
Because of the mismanagement of the economy, the absolute improvisation, the lack of economic planning, the lack of official figures, the hyperinflation, the mega devaluation, the inexistence of a foreign exchange policy, the abrupt change of direction of maduro to the right; the dismantling of the social Missions, including the Misión Alimentación (Food Mission); the destruction of PDVSA, the plummet of oil production and fiscal oil revenue; the collapse of the non-oil economy, including agriculture, livestock, imports, and food distribution; the increase in poverty, extreme poverty, exclusion, and inequality.
According to FAO, “Economic events generally affect food security and nutrition, depending on the extreme poverty level, but also on the existence of inequalities in income distribution as well as in access to basic services and assets, many of which result from social exclusion and the marginalization of groups. Where inequality is greater, economic slowdowns and downturns have a disproportionate effect on food security and nutrition for lower-income populations. Inequality increases the likelihood of severe food insecurity…” (FAO Op.cit.)
Indeed, the disastrous effects of maduro’s package and his terrible administration are being felt in the country; and these are now displayed by the most serious agencies in the world. We are not talking about NGOs funded by foreign governments; we are talking about nothing less than the United Nations, the quintessential multilateral organization, the major leagues of international politics, where all the countries of the world are represented; an organization respected by all, with agencies and a methodology that has been developed for over 70 years in which they have served the peoples of the world. This organization is currently headed by the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, along with a first-class working team which includes former president Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr. José Graziano Da Silva, FAO Director-General, who, in the discharge of their functions, alert and denounce the deplorable situation in Venezuela.
The political sectors, including the government, instead of discrediting and trying to ignore these telling reports, should take actions to rectify and redress the revolutionary policies of president Chávez. Since it is evident that neither the madurismo nor the extreme right is willing to do so, it is then up to the people and the progressive and patriotic sectors to resume these programs and policies because these are the essential instruments to reverse this crime against the people, the hunger as the ultimate expression of anti-grass-root policies, a serious setback for our country.
Now, these tasks are a national emergency, thus, they will have to be addressed with the highest popular participation and all the power of the State, in order to ensure people’s access to food. Defeating hunger and poverty was always one of the main concerns and tasks of our Bolivarian government and it was successfully addressed until 2012; in fact, just as the Bachelet report indicated, it is the State’s responsibility and part of the human, economic, and social rights of the population, rights that are nowadays violated in our country.
Tackling hunger was a priority in the destination of the oil revenue, in other words, the oil revenues in our period between 2004 and 2012. That was the scope of our offensive, right from the defeat of the Oil Sabotage: the Full Oil Sovereignty, the recovery of PDVSA, the new redder PDVSA, the Fiscal Oil Revenue, royalties, and oil tax, as well as maintaining the operational control of the business; it was about putting oil at the service of the people, in favor of the national development. That was what we did during that period of time, we generated 500 billion dollars, of which 100 billion dollars were destined to social development, namely the Missions, including the Food Mission. The rest of this enormous amount of resources went to the national treasury and the different funds created by the new “financial architecture” of the country.
The revolutionary offensive started in 2003–2004, alongside the oil offensive and the popular offensive with the Missions: Barrio Adentro, Robinson, Ribas, Sucre, and Food. Fundamental factors in these programs were the new redder PDVSA, the Bolivarian Armed Forces, the emerging People’s Power, and the authentic cooperation with Cuba.
Those were years of national mobilization, deployment, and transformation of the State institutions and their nature, with a transformation into a revolutionary State at the service of the people. All of us, under the leadership of President Chávez, dedicated ourselves completely to the fight against hunger and poverty. And it was a success, one recognized by the United Nations which highlighted our social progress and the fact that we were one of the first countries to achieve the UN millennium goals; we reduced poverty and exclusion, having one of the highest minimum wages in the region, 450 dollars a month, with an enviable Gini index (coefficient that measures inequality), only surpassed in the region by Uruguay.
In the food sector, the generalized well-being of the population, we can graph the results, using data from FAO:
In the words of Dr. Bernard Mommer, good friend, oil expert, author of fundamental works on the oil issue, who is currently persecuted and defamed by the madurismo and its prosecutor, the best way of measuring the popular distribution of the oil revenues is through the population’s possibility to access food, quality food. He is right.
Let us examine in these charts, whose source is the reports of FAO, how the favorable effects of the grass-root offensive during the period of president Chávez, particularly between 2003 and 2004 and until 2012. The oil revenue is there, and so is the social investment, the Missions, the grass root and revolutionary orientation of a government in the discharge of the mandate of the Constitution and the laws.
In terms of capabilities developed in Revolution, between 2003 and 2013, we can see that:
The Food Mission began in April 2003 becoming the spearhead for guaranteeing food security, by using a network composed by Mercal, PDVAL, and Abastos Bicentenarios, with more than 21,130 stores nationwide, distributed as follows: 13,455 Mercal stores, 50 Abastos Bicentenarios stores, 942 PDVAL stores, 6,000 Food Centers, 363 stores of Red Venezuela, 81 popular pharmacies, 127 production facilities, food processing plants, packaging plants, and distribution (Mercal, Lácteos Los Andes, Industrias Diana), 65 silo plants, collection centers, storages, CASA refrigerating centers, and CEALCO refrigerating plants.
The Food Mission distributed between 2003 and until 2013 more than 21 million tons of food, benefiting more than 19 million people, which represents 64% of the Venezuelan population.
The big question to maduro’s administration and the denunciation before the people is: where are all those assets that belong to the State? Maduro dismantled the Food Mission, accusing it of “corruption”. He closed the “food centers”; he also closed the public distribution network, or worse, he transferred them, as if nothing happened, privatizing them in favor of his friends and figureheads. How did we go from Food Mission to “Bodegones” (big pantry-like stores) where the new delicacies for that minority denounced by FAO are sold? Who owns those “Bodegones”?
And what about the people? Behind a Clap box, that not only is an embarrassment but that it contains poor quality, sometimes expired, products which are not produced in the country. Poor quality products brought from Turkey or other countries that are “partners” of the madurismo. A mechanism under investigation by the Mexican Prosecution, but in the meantime, the opposition in charge of the Comptroller’s Commission remains particularly silent.
Where is the national production of food? Where are the nationalized lands? How many farmers have been killed by the new “lords of the land”? Where are Pequiven’s fertilizers? Where are the Urea and Ammonia plants of Morón?
And, of course, where is PDVSA? The workers of the Workers Front have denounced a technical completion of areas of production and refinement. With a production every time closer to 500 thousand barrels of oil per day, without gasoline, diesel or cooking gas, where are the oil revenues? If the little production and export we have are used to pay the loans taken by the government from his foreign partners, if maduro ordains exemptions on oil taxes, if he is offered to reduce royalties to Chevron Texaco so it does not leave the country, if PDVSA does not generate oil revenues.
That is the disaster created by maduro, a disaster that has caused that four million Venezuelans fled the country; that we have the highest hyperinflation rates in the world, and in the history of the world; that the minimum wage is only 7 dollars a month, lower than in Haiti and Cuba, the lowest in the region.
What we have in Venezuela is hunger and the destruction of a country, with an extremely kind and patient people. How long will this complicit silence last? How long will all this surrendering and misery last? I stand by my historic role, I am loyal to my principles and convictions, I speak with figures and facts. The government is persecuting me, I am being politically persecuted; the government’s figureheads pay lawyers and oppositionists to persecute me, they are willing to do any kind of atrocity to silence me. I will go on with my ideas, my principles, always alongside the people. At some point, I will return to be with you, in my homeland, fighting for a future we all deserve, fighting for the reconstruction of the country. We will be victorious!