There have been attacks against Venezuela at different levels and intensity for the past 20 years by the US corporate elite, however, the lack of success in the immediate present has forced these actors to intensify the economic blockade that, combined with terrorist attacks on public services, is aimed at deconstructing the entire social fabric and notion of the State.
The latest tactic of economic strangulation of the Venezuelan population centers around the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP), the Venezuelan government’s flagship program that has contained the effects of US aggression against the country.
CLAP: Not only to supply, but also to produce
The Venezuelan government created this program in April 2016, based on a model of direct distribution and local production in the country’s 24 states as a response to the continuous siege that was manifested in large queues and bachaqueo (purchase of products at regulated prices and sale in the informal market with surcharges of between one thousand and four thousand percent), mainly to guarantee that the products reached all sectors.
These committees constitute a new form of popular organization that is responsible, along with the government, for house-to-house distribution of regulated staple products to combat smuggling of priority items such as corn flour, cooking oil, rice, pasta, powdered milk, beans and sugar.
“This is the beginning of a new productive path, and the first steps announce the success of this path,” said President Nicolás Maduro, emphasizing the productive purpose of this organization that goes beyond the simple distribution of food of national or foreign origin.
Each CLAP is made up of four coordinated bodies: National Union of Women (UnaMujer), Unidad de Batalla Bolívar-Chávez (UBCH), Frente Francisco de Miranda (FFM) and the different communal councils of each territory. The first task of the CLAP is to carry out a census of the population of the locality, which records who lives where, the number of people there are and what the needs are. When they receive the food combinations (boxes or bags), they inform the community and organize their distribution in a specific place.
Since its launch they have advanced in various forms of distribution and production, such as CLAP fishing, which has distributed more than 1000 tons of fish in the country, CLAP textiles that are responsible for making school uniforms, own packaging centers or CLAP Materno, an initiative that promotes prenatal care, to reduce maternal-neonatal morbidity.
Blockade and disinformation: the case of Colombia
Between July and August 2017, after the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) was elected and installed, the highest level of food distribution by the CLAPs was reached, reaching 10,820,713 Venezuelan families. Likewise, in 2017 the disinformation war against this key initiative for the Venezuelan people was intensified as part of the process of continued coup organized by the anti-Chávez movement to generate the conditions that would justify an international intervention.
In May 2018, the Colombian government blocked the entry of 15 containers with 25,210 CLAP combo boxes into Venezuela, in an operation carried out in Cartagena by the Colombian Tax and Customs Police and announced by then President Juan Manuel Santos. Thus Santos confirmed the decision taken by the Colombian Ministry of Finance and the US Treasury Department, after the holding of the Summit of the Americas in Peru, to prevent food access to Venezuela under the façade of the fight against corruption.
A recognition for @PoliciaAduanera, @DIANColombia and @invimacolombia, which seized yesterday in Cartagena almost 400 tons of food unfit for consumption to be distributed by Local Supply and Production Committees in Venezuela. pic.twitter.com/UQrgevrnco
– Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) May 17, 2018
At the time, Santos linked Venezuela’s international food purchases to alleged money laundering and illegal activities, which formed part of the narrative of an alleged corruption plot in the framework of the media plot against the government of Nicolás Maduro created on the basis of accusations without evidence and sanctions against political figures.
That was the moment when the Colombian oligarchy, represented by the then president, assumed the anti-Venezuelan leadership in the region and pointed to the sabotage of the commercialization of food between Venezuela and companies from neighbouring countries.
More blockade and disinformation: the case of Mexico
In October of that year, under the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Mexico reported that it initiated an investigation into unusual operations against individuals and corporations engaged in the sale of staple foods and who have obtained Venezuelan public resources.
The information was provided by Alonso Lira, Deputy Attorney General of Mexico, who indicated that 1,300,000 combos were located in 1,300 food containers in Mexico bound for Venezuela, alluding to the alleged existence of operators who went to various countries to contact other companies and obtain them.
Lira said, as a “reparatory agreement” for the crime, that the accused should deliver to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) three million dollars. In addition, they would undertake not to carry out any act of a commercial nature with the Venezuelan government or with third parties operating in the shipment or commercialization of food or medicine in connection with the CLAP program.
#PGR initiated an investigation file for unusual operations against natural and legal persons dedicated to the sale of basic foodstuffs and who have obtained Venezuelan public resources from a government humanitarian aid program: Alonso Lira #SEIDO pic.twitter.com/Roj96zy8HC
– FGR Mexico (@FGRMexico) October 18, 2018
Media financed by the State Department carried out a series of reports denouncing acts of corruption in the obtaining of food and distribution of CLAP combos in which Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman, was singled out as implicated.
The Venezuelan president said at the time that “Venezuela is going to continue buying the products it needs to complement the CLAP food, which reaches 6 million households” and said that the Mexican Attorney General’s Office had set up a “false positive, an investigative operation” to intimidate those companies that trade with the Venezuelan state. In addition, he stated that the companies that produce in Mexico were raided so that “no businessman dares to sell to Venezuela” indicating that thanks to pressure from businessmen the food was being moved to the country.
“Everything was done to avoid overpricing and the purchase of poor quality products, but it turned out that they were quality products and that they were paid at prices that have to be paid (…) hypocrites, frauds, Pharisees,” he added.
From another flank, representatives of a US Mexican-Colombian group called “El señor de los Cielos” (The Lord of the Skies), which was banned in Venezuela because of its apology for drug trafficking and related crimes, included in the scheme supposedly turbid negotiations between Mexico and Venezuela to import food into this country.
More Blockade and Disinformation: Internal Attacks
In January 2018, in a speech before the ANC, the national coordinator of this initiative, Freddy Bernal, denounced that the drop in food distribution during 2017 was due to the fact that the forces that have led the economic war increased their attacks, such as political violence through violent factions (colour revolution between the months of April and July), while the financial siege of the United States also made it difficult to import food into the country.
At the time, the Minister of Defense and head of the Great Sovereign Supply Mission, Vladimir Padrino López, assured that, due to economic sabotage, there had been delays in the arrival of the food combos and that “more than 1,500 containers with combos would arrive for the Venezuelan people, as part of the national government’s protection policies,” along with raw materials such as white corn, soya cakes, yellow corn, rice, among others.
In the meantime, the network of USAID-controlled media made calculations regarding a supposed scheme of overpricing in the boxes, even though they have systematically concealed the structures of speculation that establish national sectors on food prices that are not part of the CLAP boxes and avoid the undeclared blackout of national “productive” sectors that have received funding from the Venezuelan state, but do not engage in the production of products for domestic consumption.
The presence in the CLAP of products imported from countries such as Mexico, Turkey, Uruguay, Brazil, among others, is due to this national productive insufficiency, which is also the effect of the financial blockade measures imposed since 2014, however, the transnational media has decreed that such alternatives determined by the national government are due to “a flawed system that does not respond to the majority of Venezuelans”.
When Peña Nieto’s administration tried to block the food supply for the CLAPs, the National Assembly (AN), already in contempt, stated that it had collaborated with the alleged investigation carried out by the Mexican State. “There was a follow-up and collaboration, of course, on the part of the Parliament, but the alarms were set by the Mexican State when it thought they were being cheated by taxes,” said Congressman Juan Guaidó.
In October 2018 the anti-Chávez parliamentarian Freddy Superlano announced that a commission of the Venezuelan parliament in contempt was in Mexico, investigating an alleged scheme of corruption in the CLAP and formally consigned the complaint to the attorney general of Mexico, after “they discovered permits delivered to companies without meeting all the criteria and formal requirements under Mexican law. The course of any lawsuit or final sentence by the Mexican State is unknown.
He added that between 9 and 14 companies registered in Mexico served only as front. “They were charging a surcharge to Venezuela, in some cases the increase was 112% in Mexican products, but in other items they overcharged up to 777% as is the case of milk. It is not known if the congressman filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The object of his conjectures was to feed the narrative against a vital social policy for the Venezuelan population, adding elements to the anti-Chávez agenda based on ignorance of any institutionality.
Superlano maintained that the National Assembly is not against bringing food into the country, “we are talking about the whole plot that the government has to bring the limited food in the country, they invent the story that we are taking food across the border or that it is not a lie that the country stopped producing many years ago,” ignoring smuggling and the flight of foreign exchange by the business sector.
Sabotage as a sign of despair
Last February 27, a warehouse located in the Port of La Guaira, where the boxes of food combos are assembled, was burned at dawn. The head of the Presidential Command Post Guard and then Minister for Electric Power, Luis Motta Dominguez, said that “this is a terrorist act against the Venezuelan people. An act of sabotage against a state institution. The frustration and failure of the opposition has made them commit miserable acts like this, which is a crime against Humanity”.
Motta said the losses were substantial, both in food and packaging material. There were also losses in equipment such as forklifts, shelves and infrastructure.
According to the governor of the state of Vargas, Jorge Luis García Carneiro, the loss was reduced by 60% through the action of different fire brigades and members of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB). He added that “…unscrupulous hands, terrorists, to create chaos in the distribution of food, have set fire to part of what we consider one of the most horrendous acts that could be committed, and that is to take away the food from our people”.
This morning the extremist right wing set fire to a CLAP packing house. That’s the humanitarian aid they want for the people: violence and destruction! Already the Pdte @NicolasMaduro issued instructions to immediately replace the food for the people! Venezuela will win pic.twitter.com/iQxsvKLN1m
– Delcy Rodríguez (@DrodriguezVen) 27 February 2019
He specified that they did not rule out that it had been a terrorist act in view of the fact that, where the fire occurred, “there are no electrical outlets that could provide us with the possibility that it was a short circuit or something similar”.
Washington now goes (directly) against the CLAP
Freddy Bernal warned last May 19 that the Trump administration “sanctioned 10 of the 12 shipping companies that transported food to Venezuela, which causes delays in the arrival of items to the country, which means that what arrived in a month now takes three months.
In addition to coercive actions on shipping companies, direct payments for bank transfers in dollars made by the state are often rejected and must be paid through third countries. A payment “that was executed in 20 days, now takes 45, 60 days,” said the head of the CLAP.
In the same week, Reuters reported that the United States prepares “sanctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using a food aid program administered by the Army to launder money for the government of President Nicolas Maduro,” attributing the information to “sources familiar with the matter”.
On May 22, EFE reported statements by Elliott Abrams, the visible face of the aggression against Venezuela, that the United States is preparing a new series of sanctions against “those Chavista officials who illegally enriched themselves with the food aid program of the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP)”.
“They know this plan is corrupt, we know it and we are investigating the details. We don’t have a date announced about the sanctions and (judicial) charges to come. But this is a real crime because it is what the poorest Venezuelans need to survive,” Abrams said. The news reporter noted that the United States is preparing sanctions and criminal charges against FANB officials, allegedly for money laundering.
The real effects of these actions are already evident: the sanctions will slow down the process of acquiring food even more and will seek to deepen the chaos and crisis imposed by the corporate elites and their agents against the Venezuelan population. The Trump administration, which has intensified its aggression against Venezuela since last January, will take these actions within the next three months to reduce the “cash flow to Maduro and his loyalists”.
In its route to undermine the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the United States unilaterally determines who deserves to eat, who is corrupt, which companies commit crimes, what penalties or fines they must pay, among other arbitrary actions. Hence, the destruction of the Venezuelan nation would be a way of establishing a new order in which the aforementioned elites would govern without any objection.
Translation by Internationalist 360°