Venezuelan army personnel named to oversee food distribution

Venezuelans line up at dawn or even overnight outside the nation's supermarkets, guarded by heavily armed police to battle the growing problem of looting.

By: AFP | Caracas | Published:September 4, 2016 2:46 pm

Venezuela has named publicly 18 military commanders to oversee the production and distribution of food and basic goods in an effort to alleviate severe shortages affecting the country.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez selected the military personnel for the “Great Mission of Sovereign Supply and Security,” appointments formalized in the state newspaper.

“We will have thorough, precise control of the strategic areas,” Padrino Lopez told journalists yesterday.

“This semester we will record supply levels greater than what we presented in the first semester, and next year, we will already have a structure to increase projection and improve distribution.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro created the plan to combat severe shortages – which private firms say have hit 80 per cent – of basic products like rice, sugar and toilet paper that has fueled mounting unrest.

The embattled Maduro blames the crisis on the collapse of oil prices and an “economic war” by businesses backed by US “imperialism.”

The country’s opposition seeks to unseat the leftist president with a referendum, staging this past week a mass demonstration in favor of holding a recall vote.

Venezuelans line up at dawn or even overnight outside the nation’s supermarkets, guarded by heavily armed police to battle the growing problem of looting.

Many people resort to purchasing scarce products from “bachaqueros” – black-market sellers who buy subsidized products and sell them at a mark-up.

The government launched in July a new plan against the shortages, putting the military in control of food distribution, the country’s key ports, and of companies and factories.

According to state television, 660 private companies, 133 public companies and 2,467 food outlets have been audited since then, leading to 102 individual arrests.

Maduro says the military will make things right, arguing that the private sector controls 93 per cent of distribution of basic goods and is killing the economy with hoarding and scalping.

But the opposition and entrepreneurs say the problem is low production, which they blame on price controls and a lack of dollars to buy imported goods.

Francisco Martinez, president of the business association Fedecamaras maintains that operating companies are working between 30 and 40 per cent of their capacities because of challenges acquiring raw materials.