Venezuela Weekly: Food and Control

World Food Day (October 16) underlined the fact that in Venezuela, nourishment has become the main currency of wealth, well-being and social control. Catholic charity Cáritas released data showing that in some places in the country 53% of households recur to non-traditional sources, such as begging and the garbage, and 39% have had to sell assets to buy food. 48% of pregnant women show signs of severe malnutrition. They denounced that Venezuelans’ food consumption depends ever more on two sources: the remittances sent by family abroad, or the government. While the penetration of CLAP(Local Production and Distribution Committee) boxes is impressive there are many reports of their being used as clientelist mechanisms. Neighbors of the Caracas neighborhood of Pinto Salinas say that only those who can show a Socialist Party identification card get their CLAP boxes.

In response to this situation, a group of NGOs published a request to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization asking for them to maximize their efforts to get humanitarian assistance into Venezuela and to advocate for people’s right to eat with self-determination rather than depending on government handouts.

The lead journalists of Armando.info published a piece in New York Times Español explaining the corruption networks behind the importation of food for CLAP boxes. They point to Colombian businessmen Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas as central players in the network of offshore companies importing food from Colombia, Panama, Mexico and Turkey. The journalists also tell of the judicial pursuit they themselves have been subject to as the Venezuelan government seeks to impede investigation.

Freedom of Expression

  • A popular show on Venezuela’s leading radio network “Gente de Palabra” (People of their Word) was shut down by the National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) after they suggested the May presidential election was not legitimate and should be repeated. The Venezuelan chapter of Press and Society Institute said that in 2017 49 radio stations were censured.
  • Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is trying out in Venezuela, a new application called “Intra” to get around censorship. The app creates an encrypted channel to get around DNS blocks to pages such as Cnnenespañol or InfoBAE.

International Pressure

  • Reports over the weekend that Spain would request that the European Union support dialogue instead of sanctions, generated a deluge of criticism. While it is true that Spain is promoting a push for dialogue, they have not proposed an easing of sanctions. In any case, EU High Representative Federica Morgherini said there would be no easing of EU sanctions. She suggested the time was not right for dialogue but did say the EU was looking at the possibility of a contact group that could meet with Venezuelan officials (see Hugo Pérez’s post from yesterday).
  • Today, Ecuador ejected the Venezuelan ambassador after Minister of Communications Jorge Rodriguez suggested President Lénin Moreno lied at the UN about the number of Venezuelan migrants entering that country.
  • Shannon K O’Neill published an opinion piece arguing that China’s new debt deals with Venezuela are worse than Goldman Sach’s much criticized purchase of “hunger bonds” in 2017. She suggested that countries in the region should demand China play a more constructive role in Venezuela.
  • In the face of a military build-up on the border, the Bishop of San Cristóbal Msg. Mario Moronta, a major city near the Venezuelan border with Colombia, urged the governments of Nicolas Maduro and Colombia’s Ivan Duque to initiate dialogue or some sort of communication. “It’s not by playing war that we are going to resolve our differences.”
  • Today Geoff Ramsey and I published a review of mechanisms of international pressure and engagement that are being used or could be used to address Venezuela’s crisis.

Violence

  • Seven people were killed in a remote gold mine in Bolívar state. Family and friends say there could be more victims. Family members blame Colombian guerrilla group the Ejército de Liberación Popular (ELN) for the murders. The area near Tumeremo is rife with illegal mining and armed groups that fight for control of it. In March 2016, 28 people were massacred.
  • Residents of the downtown Caracas neighborhood of Altavista reported that one of their neighbors was executed right in front of them by the Special Action Forces of the Bolivarian National Police.

Migration

  • The most recent UNICEF numbers suggest there are 2.6 million Venezuelans living abroad, around 1.8 million of which have left since 2015.
  • Eduardo Stein, special representative for the UN High Commission on Refugees and the International Migration Organization, said its labor would be fundamentally humanitarian. It will not be our job to participate in debates of a political nature.
  • The Organization for American States announced the names of 5 migration experts who will form part of the work group headed by Venezuelan opposition politician David Smolansky.
  • Human Rights Watch published a public letter saying “Curaçao is one of the places where we have documented the worst abuses suffered by Venezuelans fleeing the devastating human rights and humanitarian crisis in their country.” Their research has shown that despite hundreds of requests, the Curaçao government has not provided a single asylum interview. What is more, many migrants who are detained are subject to verbal and physical abuse and denied the right to counsel.
  • The Spanish government has dedicated 15 million euros to attend to their nationals in Venezuela. The funds go towards paying for pensions and other social programs.

Human Rights

  • On Friday, October 12 political prisoner Lorent Saleh was freed from jail and put on a flight to Spain. Saleh was an important student activist for years but in 2014 was arrested in exile and extradited by Colombia after he was taped talking about plans for terrorist attacks in Venezuela. Despite this he became a cause célèbre among opposition radicals and was even named as one of the winners of the European Parliament’s 2017 Sakharov Prize for freedom of conscience. During four years of incarceration in Venezuela his trial was deferred dozens of times and he was held and reportedly tortured by the Intelligence Police (SEBIN).

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such most of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]