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January 30, 2020

Communal efforts

Opinion

January 30, 2020

This January, I went to Venezuela with a group of North Americans to see for ourselves how economic ‘sanctions’ are affecting people’s access to food. We wondered how the Venezuelan popular classes are responding to the massive attack on their economic well-being.

We saw a complicated scene, with virtually every kind of productive activity crippled in many ways, some not so obvious on the surface. Nevertheless, people have had time to adjust to the situation; they have been creative, energetic, and determined. Communes are growing, the government is surviving, and “It’s not as bad as it was in 2017” was a common refrain. These are some of the stories we heard as we met people working to achieve food sovereignty for their country.

The biggest problem, getting adequate food to the majority of people, is the same as it is all around the world: food production and distribution is still done mostly through a capitalist system. Venezuela is governed by a socialist party which has socialism as its goal. But the capitalist sector controls an estimated 80 percent of the economy; the government’s share is mostly in oil and some heavy industry. Stores and restaurants are well stocked with food, but the price is too high for most people to easily afford.

Up to last year there was a system by which the government controlled the prices that merchants could charge, selling dollars at a discount to importers, in order to make low retail prices possible. Massive corruption on the part of the importers and others made that system unsustainable, and once the economic war ramped up it collapsed, since the government bank had no more dollars to sell.

The government’s response was to set up an alternative system to eliminate at least some of the middlemen whose scarcity-based profits were making food unaffordable.

Food is acquired in quantity by the government, and packages of basic things like rice, lentils, beans, tuna, cooking oil, pasta, corn flour, sugar and milk are assembled. These are distributed through committees set up by communal councils, which are made up of about 200 households in a neighborhood (fewer in rural areas.) Recipients pay a nominal price of about 50 cents. This system is called CLAP (Committees for Local Supply and Production).

We encountered places where packages don’t come regularly, some not at all, and at times certain items are missing. We were told that Mérida and Zulia in the west are examples of places experiencing serious hunger. Nevertheless, CLAP has saved many lives; about 6 million households depend on it, 60 percent of the population.

The Bolivarian volunteer militia has been put in charge of distribution of the food, but the government still has to rely on commercial channels to obtain the products. The US strategy of economic war includes making it nearly impossible for Venezuela to do business with the capitalist world.

Big Venezuelan corporations like Polar control much of the food business. These are serious obstacles, but the program continues.

Schools, factories, universities and other institutions have facilities that provide meals. Many communes operate a system to feed people.

Excerpted from: ‘Venezuela, January 2020: Hardship and Resistance’.

Counterpunch.org