To start this blog about Venezuela I will start by giving a brief historical timeline that will give a general background. It is important to mention that Venezuela is a significant oil producer which uses much of that revenue for food and social programs throughout the country. When oil prices are low the government lacks the financial ability to support food and social programs. In order to understand modern Venezuela there will be a short background on Hugo Chávez’ who was the leader for about fifteen years. By gaining a good understanding of Chávez’ government it will be easier to understand the current situation.
My friend Marco from Mexico City recently told me about an influx of Venezuelans’ in Mexico and I thought it would be interesting to add more information on that later in my blog. This piece is meant to show how desperate people are for food today in Venezuela. In the end I will also put a recipe from Venezuela.
Venezuela is located in the northern part of South America and its capital is Caracas. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east and Brazil to the south. Venezuela is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean putting it at a strategic location for trade between North and South America.
In 1498 Venezuela was colonized by Spain but they, “neglected the area because of its apparent lack of mineral wealth (Lapper R., 2005).” In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries both cocoa and coffee were major crops. In the 1830’s Venezuela was the major exporter of coffee. http://countrystudies.us/venezuela/22.htm . In 1813 Simon Bolivar known as a liberator from Spain across South America. ( However, he was born in Venezuela). Even until today he has influenced many leaders including Hugo Chavez.
Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez and Simon Bolivar next to the Venezuelan Flag
It is believed that oil had existed in Venezuela for many centuries however, it was used for for medicinal purposes up until 1912 when drilling took place.In 1917 the oil industry in Venezuela started to expand on an international scale and in 1928 they became a major oil exporter. The opening of the oil industry provided the government with money that helped support the variety of programs. In 1936 the government embarked on its now-famous policy of sembrar el petróleo, or “sowing the oil, (http://countrystudies.us/venezuela/22.htm)” which allowed oil revenues to stimulate agriculture, and later, industry. In the 1950’s oil was being exported from the Middle East which hurt the Venezuelan market. In 1958 the people wanted a democracy and a closer relationship with the U.S. which helped to overthrew the dictator Perez Jimenez. In the 1960’s Venezuela signed an agreement called “Alliance for Progress” which made them economically dependent on the United States. This agreement left many peasants landless because the land was not distributed equally. In the 1970’s the Venezuelan government heavily invested in petroleum which abandoned agriculture and industrialized the country. In the 1980’s Venezuela faced a collapse in the oil market which limited the amount of money that was available to spend on food. This then led to the deadly food riots of 1989 in which left hundreds of people dead.
Who was Hugo Chávez’ and What Were His Policies?
Hugo Chávez’ was the second oldest child out of six siblings. He grew up in poverty but his family moved to their states capital called Barinas and got further educated. Chávez’ went to school at a military academy and graduated in 1975. (Lapper R., 2005) This led to his military service even though he did not agree with their politics. While Hugo was in the military he tried leading a coup d’etate but failed because he could not gain enough support. He spent in some time in jail and in 1998 he got elected as the President for three terms ( until he died in 2013). In order to gain support from the military Hugo Chávez’ gave former military officers’ jobs in the government. (Lapper R., 2005)
Hugo Chávez’ strongly believed that everyone had the right to access food which helped to shape a lot of his domestic policies. One of the first actions that Chávez’ took was to establish Mercals which are chain grocery stores where products were sold at a set price. The majority of people had access to food, however, this destroyed the local agriculture because farmers couldn’t make money on their produce.When Hugo came to power he started off by implementing agricultural programs such as Plan Zamora also known as Mission Zamora. The goal of Mission Zamora was to give land to people/ peasants who were landless in attempts to expand agriculture and make Venezuela food secure. (global exchange, 2017)
Hugo Chávez’ in 2001 started taking land from commercial farmers. After the land was seized anyone (even non- experienced farmers’) could apply to have ownership to cultivate it. One of the few requirements for this project was that people had to prove their poverty status. Another issue that came with the new farmers was lack of education and the inability to buy seeds. This contributed to the decrease in food production and availability in Venezuela.
As it was mentioned before the money that Venezuela earned from their oil market helped to pay for imported food and other social programs. It is important to note that even people who supported Chavez started to realize that the availability of staple foods decreased significantly.
Chavez wanted, “ to improve the access of the Venezuelan poor to food (Howard-Hassmann R.E., 2014)” In 2007, Venezuelans’ started experiencing food shortages which was a new occurrence under the rule of Hugo Chávez’. As a result of food shortages the demand for non-controlled foods increased as well as the prices. Many times the non-controlled foods were sold by people who would take advantage of the shortage and sell these food items illegally for a higher price.
Problems With the Oil Revenues
Inflation became a problem in Venezuela from 2003-2011 and to maintain stability to some extent Chávez’ added many more items to the price controlled list. In, “2012 the prices of hundreds of staple foods were controlled (Devereux 2012 September 4; Howard-Hassmann R.E., 2014).”
The more goods that were controlled, the higher the prices on the black, or informal, market became when goods could not be found at the Mercals”. Since the subsidized foods came from the oil revenues it didn’t always provide enough money to give food to everyone. Instead of fixing these problems Chavez would crack down on businesses such as butchers claiming that they were charging too much money. This led to the nationalization of many businesses and many people felt discouraged and decided that it was not worth the trouble.
From Hugo Chávez’ to Nicolas Maduro
It was later discovered that Hugo Chavez mishandled much of the oil revenue which created more hunger which continues to be problematic under the Nicolas Maduro (successor of Chavez). Recently, Venezuela hasn’t been profiting from the oil market hence lacking the ability to provide food for the people. The Maduro government continues Chavez’ food policies by adding more food items to the price controlled list. The food situation in Venezuela deteriorated to the extent that their most basic food items such as rice, beef and coffee which were once locally produced are now all being imported from surrounding countries. While Maduro negotiated these food imports it would often be meaningless because the food would arrive at the ports and would sit on the ships until it rotted.(El Universal 2013 September 19; Howard-Hassmann R.E., 2014).
The food situation in Venezuela is so bad that Nicolas Maduro handed the military full responsibility of distributing food to the people which developed the current food crisis. Instead of distributing the food to the people the military decided to make a profit on it. The military often asks for prices that are more than the usual leaving many people without food. Many people believe that Maduro gave the military control over food distribution so he could gain their loyalty. However, many Venezuelans’ who are not as fortunate to be in the military crossed the border to Columbia to get food supplies (even though it was more than double the money for them). With so many people desperate to provide food for their families and crossing the border in masses Maduro decided to close the border.
From what I have read it seems that the people are / were developing apps and websites (the name of the website is Abasteceme) that would help others find food and other necessities. It seems that these websites started off locating places with toilet paper / tissue they are now helping people locate food. The people who developed these apps and websites were arrested because the government claims that they are trying to destabilize the country. Maduro does not take any responsibility for the crisis and instead blames the local population for exhausting the resources. Food shortages continued to increase when food companies such as Empresas Polar (a Venezuelan food company) could not gain access to U.S. dollars which prevented them from importing food. This has caused a black market for food because the smugglers from surrounding countries found that people were desperate enough to buy on the black market. According to a retired general from the Venezuelan army Cliver Alcala , “food is a better business than drugs..,” when it comes to the black market.
** If anyone is fluent in Spanish you can check out the website. I have provided the link to their twitter account and website.
Links to find out more on Abasteceme
According to Venezuelan laws is forbidden to take out money (just small amounts), meaning that industries and wealthy or middle classes are in jeopardy. At least the money that are in bank accounts. I recall facing this problem with a company that wanted to take their dividends (final profit) and it was just impossible. You can only reinvest the dividends in the country not taking them away to other country.
In the past years, many Venezuelans have left their country. According to statistics over the last few years 1.5 million have evacuated to multiple locations, some of their destinations include Latin American countries. The reason for the mentioned is that Venezuela’s economy and civil rights are in chaos. Venezuela’s economic model, has affected household income, leaving some people to poverty. The mentioned, has forced many nationals to leave and look for new opportunities. In their despair has led them to live into other Latin American countries. For instance, the census immigration in Mexico has notoriously increased: in 2010 immigrated 10,063 Venezuelans and in 2016 statistic shows that a total of 28,560 Venezuelans has legally immigrated to Mexico, resulting a raise of 180%. It is to bear in mind, that the aforementioned numbers are with regard to legal immigration and not taking into account illegal aliens. The escape of nationals to other countries is a consequence of Chavez rhetoric, which persuaded many nationals to get his vote, expecting on having a better Venezuela. As a result, Venezuela is facing one of their most challenging chapters in history, which is spiraling into an economic and humanitarian crisis. Some factors are the the turmoil of global economy, uncertainty of oil prices, which is the main resource of Venezuela’s economy. Additionally, China as the main creditor to Venezuela, took the decision in 2016 to cut off new loans to the Latin American country, due to the fact that Venezuela owes China 20 billion, and according to economy studies, the country is unable to fulfill her obligation. The South American country has to look for a turn around. They have to start up by ending Maduro’s regime, as he has the same ideology as Chavez, in a democracy that became a dictatorship, their is nothing to expect and lose, history has taught us that.
Traditional Stuffed Venezuelan Arepas
1 pound flank steak (cut into 2 or 3 pieces)
6 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cups dried, soaked black beans
1 1/2 cups canola oil
2 large onions – (minced)
4 cloves garlic – (minced)
2 red bell peppers – (minced)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup frozen green peas
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
2 cups arepa flour
1 ripe plantain- (cut into 1/2-inch slices)
4 ounces cotija cheese
Bibliography/ Where to find more information
Alvarez J., Fiorito J., (2005), Venezuelan Oil Unifying Latin-America
Ethics of Development in a Global Environment
Brodzinsky S., (2016), Venezuelans storm Colombia Border City in Search of Food and Basic Goods
Dreier H., Goodman J., (2016), Venezuela Military Trafficking Food as Country goes Hungry ,
Gall, N. (1973). Oil and Democracy in Venezuela, Part 1: Sowing the Petroleum. AUFS Reports, East Coast South America Series, 17, 9.
Global Exchange (2016), Land Reform in Venezuela
Global Voices, (2014), Can’t Find Milk or Other Basics in Venezuela Thanks to a Food Shortage? This App Can Help
Growth and Structure of the Economy
Howard-Hassmann R.E., (2015) The Right to Food under Hugo Chavez.
Human Rights Quarterly 37(4)
Lapper R., (2005), Venezuela and the Rise of Chavez: A Background Discussion Paper
Council on Foreign Relations
Post J.M., (2007), “El Fenomeno Chavez:” Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Modern Day Bolivar
Air Univ Maxwell Afb Al Counter Proliferation Center
Wilpert G., (2003), The Economics, Culture, and Politics of Oil in Venezuela
The Economist, (2016), Army Rations
“The Liberator” “The George Washington of South America”
Simon Bolivar; The George Washington of South America