Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Venezuela: Denial of Food Is a Human Rights Crime

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Venezuela: Denial of Food Is a Human Rights Crime

Article excerpt

Venezuela: Denial of food is a human rights crime

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University

In early February, the Lima Group, a coalition of several Latin American countries and Canada, urged the Venezuelan military to sever ties with President Nicolas Maduro. The group called for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid and for international governments to refrain from doing business with the nation "in oil, gold and other assets."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reiterated Canada's opposition to military intervention in Venezuela to solve the crisis, as has been suggested by U.S. President Donald Trump.

How does Venezuela find itself in one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history?

By November 2018, three million people had fled Venezuela, mainly because of shortages of food and medicine. This is almost 10 per cent of Venezuela's population of 32 million.

By mid-2017, 60 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty. By early 2018 more than half of all Venezuelans had experienced significant weight loss and 90 per cent said they did not have enough money for food.

Formerly dormant diseases such as measles, malaria and diphtheria are reoccurring. Hospitals are extremely short of personnel, medicines and the most basic equipment.

By this end of this year, the total number of refugees may reach five million.

I researched Venezuela and its leaders for my 2016 book, State Food Crimes. Venezuela's food shortages are a consequence of state-induced hunger, not of any natural events. The Venezuelan government and its illegitimate leader, President Nicolas Maduro, are guilty of state food crimes.

Bad policy after bad

The food shortage is a predictable consequence of the policies that Venezuela's former President, Hugo Chavez, and Maduro have imposed over the last two decades.

Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1999. He tried to distribute food to poor Venezuelans, and from 1999 to 2007 people's living conditions improved. However, Chavez destroyed the market in food by imposing maximum prices on hundreds of specific items such as flour. When the official prices did not meet the costs of production and distribution, producers and distributors withdrew from the market.

Chavez also nationalized large-scale food producers, handing over farms and ranches to citizens who did not possess the expertise or resources to cultivate them. Thus very little, if anything, was produced on the expropriated territories. Property rights no longer existed.

With food shortages beginning, Chavez used revenues generated by the state-owned petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), to import food, instead of letting PDVSA retain its earnings so that it could reinvest in infrastructure. He appointed his political allies to run PDVSA, replacing competent managers.

With infrastructure declining and with incompetent managers, Venezuela's oil output fell. At the same time, the international price of oil dropped. So oil earnings couldn't be used to finance food imports to replace the food no longer being produced at home.

The combination of reduced production and reduced imports meant that food shortages began as early as 2007. Food supplies fell even more in later years.

Chavez died in 2013. He was succeeded by Nicolas Maduro, who continued and intensified Chavez' policies. …

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