The international digestion of food crimes

From 1999 to 2012, and despite food shortages, international statistics showed considerable progress on the right to food in Venezuela (Howard-Hassman 2016: 100). Ironically, while food shortages started to worsen, the Food and Agriculture Organization awarded President Maduro for Venezuela’s success in reducing malnutrition. By June 16th 2013, the FAO recognized Venezuela for having achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000 (FAO 2013). Venezuela was challenged to reduce by half the percentage of its hungry population before 2015. Surprisingly, Venezuela had passed from 13.5% in 1990 to a steady 5% of undernourished population by 2007, according to the evaluation of MDGs. Even more remarkable was that Venezuela managed to cut in half the absolute number of population with hunger: from 2.7 million in 1990 to 1.3 million by 2007, achieving both the MDG and the WFS (World Food Summit) objectives continuously since 2009 (FAO 2013). Recently, the 7th June 2015, Venezuela was rewarded during the 39º FAO Conference in Rome for being one of the 72 countries achieving the MDG and one of the 29 having “notoriously succeeded” in fulfilling the WFS goals (FAO 2015). For the same occasion, the FAO reported that 95,4% of the Venezuelan population was eating three or more meals a day.

The magic formula of success relied, according to the FAO, on the increase of access to subsidized food thanks to the nutritional social programme misión alimentación –which assured having incorporated more than 2 million people to the social security system–, on the one hand, and on the availability of food by virtue of the State’s Supply Network attending to 17.5 million people in 22,000 provision locations, on the other. In sum, the Venezuelan government was subsidizing 78.8% of the total food price, and covering the food costs of 61% of the country’s population (FAO 2015), which explained the popularity of its food policies. All statistics suggested that Chávez food policies contributed to a broader improve of health, nutrition and poverty reduction. Nevertheless, these figures might have been strongly influenced by government’s unreliable statistics (Howard-Hassman 2016: 107) neglecting that people were suffering severe food shortages, nor were there reports on starvation or on the effects of malnutrition, especially in children. Furthermore, the FAO admitted having done these calculations based on the standardized 32,358 Kilo caloric daily intake necessary ‘for a healthy life’, regardless of the quality and, above all, the provenance of food products (FAO 2015).

Despite the government’s propaganda and the recognition of the international community on Venezuela’s apparent progresses on food security, nutritional studies showed testimonials that the food insecurity experience was evident (Bernal et al. 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016). By stating the cause, temporality, consequences, and the awareness of the problem, it became clear that starvation was compromising the physical, cognitive and emotional development of infants aged from 10 to 17 in Venezuela’s peri-urban zones (Bernal et al. 2011). According to these reports, children were both cognitively and emotionally aware of food insecurity manifesting feelings of shame, anguish, sadness and concern as they actively participated in their parents’ food-management strategies (Bernal et al. 2012). By 2011, 69% of Venezuelan’s household with children reported to be food-insecure (Bernal et al. 2011). Infants reported having reduced quantity and quality of food intake, turning to child labour, having smaller meals, and recognizing thinness and fainting as consequences of food shortages (Bernal et al. 2012). Adult family members responded to food shortfalls by increasing credit for food consumption, augmenting reliance on wild food, migrating for short-term labour, and relocating to alleviate distress (Bernal et al. 2011), sacrificing food consumption, receiving support from external family members, buying fewer essential food items, reducing the number of daily meals, eating less at the main meal (Bernal et al. 2012).

Andreina Aveledo, Venezuelan, graduated from the University of Bern, Switzerland and worked as a researcher for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). She is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Anthropology. Her research interests are food security, food sovereignty, political economy and the politics of control.  You can follow her @AndreinaAveledo