Venezuela Confronting the food crisis

‘The food crisis is the greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model.’
President Hugo Chavez

An extraordinary meeting of the member nations of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) met in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, on 23 and 24 April to discuss the world food crisis and the political crisis in eastern Bolivia.

At the meeting, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed accords to promote mutual agricultural development, create a joint food distribution network and set up a $100 million ALBA food security fund in the Bank of ALBA, created in January. As Chavez pointed out, the crisis, described by the United Nations World Food Programme as ‘a silent tsunami’, demands an internationally co-ordinated response. ‘ALBA announces its willingness to assume responsibility, ALBA responds immediately… here we are’. Carlos Lage blamed the food crisis on an ‘unjust international economic order’ in which ‘the logic is profit and not the satisfaction of people’s needs’.

The agricultural agreements will focus on rice, corn, oil for human consumption, beans, beef and milk and the improvement of irrigation. The ALBA leaders also agreed to form a public food distribution network with regulated prices to prevent private price speculation.

Venezuela has already redistributed over 2 million hectares of land and increased government funding for agricultural production by 728% over the past three years. Hugo Chavez has spoken of the need to ‘move away from the oil-based production model. The future of the country is in the land…food production is the most important’. In February the Venezuelan government set up a state-organised food distribution organisation, PDVAL (administrated by the state oil company PDVSA), to supplement its network of state-owned markets, Mercal, aimed at the poorest sections of society. PDVAL will ensure a wider distribution of basic food items to a wider section of the population at regulated prices, enforce distribution by privately-owned companies which have been stockpiling some items and combat the smuggling of food over the border. PDVAL is already going some way to alleviate the shortages and high prices of items such as oil, rice, milk and wheat. PDVAL is to distribute some 74,000 tons of imported food, such as powdered milk. Despite its own shortages, in April Venezuela sent 364 tons of meat, milk, lentils, oil and vegetables to Haiti where the poorest sections of the population were facing near-starvation because of rising food costs.

The ALBA meeting also pledged solidarity with the Bolivian government against the right-wing secessionist movement led by rich landowners in Santa Cruz, calling it ‘a frank violation of the constitution and Bolivian laws’. Morales described the May separatist referendum as ‘a bridge point for the Empire here in Bolivia disguised by the euphemism of autonomy’.     

Cat Wiener

Information from 24.4.08 and Debate Socialista 3-9 March 2008

FRFI 203 June / July 2008