Amid a critical situation of shortages
By Nestor Rojas Mavares
HAVANA TIMES – In an unexpected order of command, 18 generals of the Venezuelan Armed Forces will assume the onslaught against shortages of basic foods and medicines plaguing the oil rich country, extending the militarization of the entire chain of distribution of consumer goods, reported dpa news.
Defense Minister and head of what President Maduro named the Sovereign Food Supply Mission, General Vladimir Padrino, is to disseminate the guidelines of the offensive, after announcing the plan under which a different general will take over the distribution of each type of product.
Padrino said he assigned a military team to ensure that the items in the basic consumer basket reach across the country (to the around 30 million Venezuelans) through the so-called Local Supply Committees (CLAP), which are groups organized by the Government to sell bags of basic consumer goods directly to consumers.
“I have ordered, according to the instructions you gave us, to assign a general or a civilian-military team per product category. That is a general or admiral will become head of the rice (or other products) and charged with displaying on a map all the production or importation, through the whole process of food processing, to marketing, reaching the Clap committees,” said Padrino on Tuesday on President Nicolas Maduro’s radio and television program.
He added that the strategy seeks to “govern” all products, at least 18 primary products and then 50 priority ones, “including foods, medicines and industrial consumer products.”
Maduro said the Sovereign Supply Mission has already monitored operations at 791 companies in the country to verify their operations, requiring they meet established prices and ensure distribution. He noted that the government is preparing for an “offensive” during the last months of the year, when he could face a recall referendum on his mandate, submitted by the opposition.
According to Maduro, the problem of shortages in the country is concentrated in the distribution chain, blaming the private sector, which he accuses of maintaining an “economic war” against the people.
Venezuela has lived at least three years of shortages and scarcity accompanied by growing inflation which reached 180% in 2015, and some estimate that this year it will exceed 600%.
The situation worsened as oil prices fell, mainstay of the Venezuelan economy, which drastically reduced the government’s ability to offset the decline in domestic consumer products production with imports.
Military affairs analyst Rocio San Miguel, of the NGO Control Ciudadano (Citizen control), said Padrino’s announcements were “quite controversial” because they have no relation to the functions of any contemporary armed forces.
“These announcements were received humorously by society. It’s an amazing story that 18 generals were assigned to deal one product each, one with rice, another chicken, another beef. We do not know if this should be taken seriously as the case merits or with concern, “he told dpa.
San Miguel explained that there are more than 1,200 generals and admirals currently in Venezuela, far exceeding the personnel needed for the battles announced. However, he stressed that he sees the matter more aimed at the redistribution of state resources, because the sectors assigned to import foods will have access to cheap dollars.
“It is a distortion of reality that 18 generals have the ability to resolve the situation, while there captains and lieutenants do not even have food in their barracks. There is hunger in the barracks, while we have generals with access to cheap dollars (for imports),” he said.
Maduro’s response to shortages in the markets, with long lines that grow by the day at supermarkets and shops, has been to increase the powers and responsibilities of the military in the country’s economy.
Venezuela is Cuba’s leading trade partner and closest political ally.