Hunger by Design: How Venezuela Keeps Dissidence Under Control

Hunger in Venezuela: officials hand out food to party loyalists in southern Bolívar state. (Avance Informativo)
Hunger in Venezuela: officials hand out food to party loyalists in southern Bolívar state. (Avance Informativo)

EspañolBy Guillermo Rodríguez

If you want to know how politicians think and act, forget lofty goals and idealism. You have to identify their material objectives and available resources to figure out the most efficient way they might achieve them in the context of their political opposition.

By laying out this economic framework known as “politics without romance,” James M. Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986. Applying this approach to the recent developments in Venezuela may help understand the rise of authoritarianism in the country.

The country’s economy is in complete disarray after financing its socialist revolution, a time when oil prices were much higher than they are today.

The celebration of this is long over, but the hangover remains both for the Chavistas of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the also socialist opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).

The Opposition’s Myopic Strategy

Along with its partisan control of the electoral authority, the key to Chavismo’s power in Venezuela is its political control over the Supreme Court.

With oil prices at record lows, they cannot win a credible election. The ruling party’s massive defeat in the recent legislative elections could be easily repeated in the future.

The opposition’s strategy is then to hope for power to fall into their hands as a result of the people’s massive rejection of Chavismo at the polls.

However, the problem is that those who give the orders at the MUD agree on two things: a social democratic model that will block whatever movement that does not adhere to the same ideology, and that the governing socialist rulers must negotiate the turnover of power, agreeing to the secret mutual protection of the spoils of the past, present, and future.

In other words, their project includes the Chavistas in the new government.

Hunger in Venezuela: A Deliberate Strategy

In the meanwhile, governing socialism will continue advancing toward totalitarianism, manipulating the opposition and the population. Scarcity, inherent to socialism, will be the tool.

They have the electoral authority in their pockets and they can continue calling themselves “revolutionary democrats” thanks to the support of a majority of intellectuals across the globe.

But because they no longer have petrodollars to hand out among the people, they will now use the little food that is left: government rationing will be done through a criteria of political loyalty, nothing more, nothing less.

That is why the ruling party created committees with the power to extort and confiscate: CLAPs, local supply and production committees, made up of the most loyal bases of the PSUV.

Venezuela is transitioning from a system of open rationing to one where only the politically connected will get food.

In open rationing, food products at regulated prices become scarce. Rations are based on instructions the government gives to the food distribution network, forcing Venezuelans to purchase these items after waiting in long lines, a single day of the week based on the last number of their Social Security Number or leaving a digital mark in their virtual ration cards.

Corruption and the black market come go along with this, as with any form of rationing.

But with the CLAPs monopolizing food products, those who are not on their list, or who are being excluded as a political punishment, lose access to scarce food items.

Those who govern Venezuela already enacted a political apartheid against millions who signed a recall referendum against Hugo Chávez in 2004. Now, while the opposition collects signatures for a dubious referendum against President Maduro, the CLAP is using lists to decide who eats and who doesn’t.

The Venezuelan government controls every facet of food distribution chains, both private and public. Even though some pockets of open rationing can remain, the CLAP could seize whatever it wants, when it wants  — and what is left out of the CLAP network will be sought by the population en masse.

It is not necessary that CLAPs control all the rationed food items; it is enough that CLAP is the only alternative in uncertain times when your family is starving.

Thus, the ruling party will govern a population so impoverished and terrorized that they will have no choice but to vote in fear.

Easier said than done, but the ruling party’s chances are better than those of an opposition who is bent on ignoring the terrible means within the reach of cruel socialist leaders in power.

Guillermo Rodríguez G. is a researcher at the Centro de Economía Política de Mariana and a professor of Economic Politics at the Instituto Universitario de Profesiones Gerencial IUPG, in Caracas, Venezuela.

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