SEATTLE, Washington — The state of hunger in Venezuela is a result of multiple societal collapses in the country. The recent collapse of the Venezuelan economy in 2016 contributed to numerous hardships that many Venezuelans, both in and out of the country, suffer daily. The lack of essential amenities such as food and medicine led to many Venezuelans migrating out of their country, causing an international migrant crisis. The situation has a historical root that stems from the presidency of President Hugo Chávez. What are the causes of the hunger problem in Venezuela? What efforts are underway to alleviate poverty in Venezuela?
Chávez’s Presidency Contributes to Venezuelan Crisis
The Venezuelan crisis of 2016 is partly responsible for the hunger problem in Venezuela. While there are multiple suspected causes of the economic and societal collapse in Venezuela, many believe that over-reliance on the country’s oil revenue during Hugo Chávez’s presidency contributed to the current crisis. Capitalizing on Venezuela’s crude oil reserves, the largest in the world, former President Hugo Chávez’s socialist government implemented numerous social welfare programs that the government’s oil revenue supported. However, the mismanagement and corruption within the government led to hyperinflation. Consequently, the price of goods rose by 720%.
Venezuelans Suffer from Food Insecurity
The World Food Programme’s (WFP) 2019 report, which interviewed 8,375 households, found one in three Venezuelans was food insecure. What makes the hunger problem in Venezuela unique is the difficulty for a family to obtain food. In the report, seven out of 10 families claimed food availability is plentiful. This means that the difficulty of obtaining food in Venezuela is due more to the inflation of food prices rather than its scarcity.
The same report also found that an estimated 7.9% of Venezuela’s population was also severely food insecure. At least 74% of the interviewed households stated that they engaged in food-related coping strategies such as reducing meal portion size, working for food as payment, selling family assets to cover basic needs and spending their savings to buy food. Needless to say, the hunger problem in Venezuela stunts the growth of many Venezuelan children. According to UNICEF, 13% of Venezuelan “children suffered from malnutrition” between 2013 and 2018
The Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPS)
While the Venezuelan government seems to be making efforts to alleviate hunger in Venezuela, political agendas hinder aid from reaching those who need them the most. In 2016, President Nicolás Maduro launched the Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPS). However, the program requires a person to sign up for the Father Land Card to receive food and other amenities.
Many people claim Venezuelan officials are using the Father Land Card to track voting participation. Receivers of the CLAPS package claim that the CLAP boxes usually arrive late and half-empty during election seasons. Additionally, despite President Maduro’s negative attitude toward foreign aid, there is still some amount of aid that is going through the Venezuelan border. In 2019, for example, President Maduro announced that Russia was sending 300 tonnes of food and medical supplies to Venezuela.
The US Aims to Provide Aid for Venezuelan Citizens
The Venezuelan government’s reaction to foreign aid is also concerning. The U.S., which supports the regime of the self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guiado, sent millions of dollars’ worth of aid to the Colombian border to reach Venezuela in 2019. In response, the Venezuelan military closed down the Tienditas International Bridge, which shut Venezuela’s border to Colombia. By closing its border, Venezuela effectively refused an estimated $60 million worth of humanitarian aid.
President Nicolás Maduro stated in defense of his refusal of foreign aid by saying that the U.S.’s aid was a political ploy to forcefully change his regime. When the U.S. tried to forcefully bring aid into Venezuela, a violent clash broke out between pro-Maduro security forces and U.S.-backed opposition. After three people died and 300 people were wounded, the U.S. government imposed three additional sanctions on the Venezuelan government. While many other international relief organizations also contributed more than $28 million worth of donations to Venezuela, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance called for proper management of relief efforts with realistic expectations.
The hunger problem in Venezuela is concerning for several reasons. The most shocking realization might be that the problem was manmade. Food scarcity developed out of poor policy decisions rather than natural disasters. What further complicates the issue is that politics, both domestic and international, is hindering aid from those who need it the most.
Fortunately, many international relief organizations recognize the need for aiding Venezuela without a political agenda. The sheer amount of willingness for many international organizations to assist the people of Venezuela is encouraging. Many hope for a quick conclusion to hunger, suffering and instability in Venezuela.
– YongJin Yi