Venezuela Militarizes Its Food Supply, Exodus Ensues
In a public announcement on July 11, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said that all government ministries would be subordinated to the Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López. Critically, Gen. Padrino would be charged with the Great Mission of Sovereign Supply. (Chavistas seem to follow in the Chinese Communist tradition of ostentation in their naming conventions for government programs).
“It’s not about militarizing,” Gen. Padrino said last Tuesday. “I don’t like to see military intervention in areas that aren’t of military nature, but this is a question of national security and defense of the fatherland.”
Despite being trained by the US military, Gen. Padrino has remained loyal to Pres. Maduro.
This Great Mission is supposed to improve food supply throughout the country, but Pres. Maduro also gave the Defense Minister the power to make decisions at the municipal, regional and business levels — basically a parallel president for domestic policy.
Maduro has only deepened the trend of militarizing a government that under his predecessor, Pres. Hugo Chávez, was already more militarized than Chile under Pinochet. In addition to giving active and retired generals key Cabinet posts, Maduro has awarded troops several inflation-beating pay raises, given the armed forces its own television network and created a military-run bank.
Food, however, is now the most valuable commodity in a country that is starving — not due to a conspiratorial right-wing US-backed mafia, as Maduro likes to claim, but because his fiscal and monetary policies, the judicial nihilism and the endemic corruption have all killed agribusiness, in a country where things grow so rampantly, you have to swing a machete every day, just to keep nature from devouring human creation.
So far, the military has shown themselves incompetent at administering anything other than corruption and drug trafficking; I don’t expect them to do much better at food.
Neither, apparently do the Venezuelans, who thronged to the borders.
At a security conference of the IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies) in Cartagena, more than a year ago, the Colombians said they feared a massive influx of Venezuelans due to a humanitarian crisis. It has come to pass. Inevitably, some of those fleeing with stay in Colombia.
The announcement prompted a somewhat delayed response in our signals as people (mostly English speakers) went out into the Internet to figure out what it might mean, what they might expect from the Venezuelan military.
The spike in Gen. Cliver Alcalá’s Twitter feed follows his appearance on Patricia Janiot’s show on CNN en Español, where he was asked to explain the appointment of Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López in charge of the food supply and allowing him to make domestic policy decisions.
Gen. Cliver Alcalá, head of the Army’s 4th Division and one of the late Pres. Hugo Chávez’s strong men, was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department’s OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) in 2011 for links to drug trafficking networks and the FARC, but he has turned against Chávez’s successor, Pres. Nicolás Maduro, and backed opposition demands referendum, whose constitutional thresholds they have met.
Placing the defense minister in a position of such authority could make the idea of a change in government less appealing to the country’s politicians and armed forces in the coming months. However, officially granting the Defense Minister so much more influence over the direct administration of government could make it more difficult for the president and his immediate allies to resist a recall referendum, should the Defense Minister and other military leaders choose to support it.
On the other hand, if the program fails, Maduro will have someone else to blame. Gen. Padrino could be his fall guy.
In the end, it is likely about the same old thing: buying military loyalty, by giving them more control over valuable commodities and sources of revenue. This is critical at a time when opposition leaders, like Maria Corina Machado, leader of Vente Venezuela, are calling for the military to side with the people.
The probability of the military’s siding with the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans who want Maduro out got a boost from the OAS (Organization of American States) announcement last month that it deemed the Maduro regime undemocratic, so that if they did side with the people against Maduro, history would judge them kindly.
Unfortunately, I expect the military to remain in charge of everything worth anything until the country is sucked completely dry. With the International Energy Agency announcing yesterday that Venezuelan oil production has hit a 13-year low, at a price below $38 a barrel, that day is not far off.
At that point, the only viable source of revenue will be criminality: drug trafficking, gun running, and money laundering for themselves and other criminal groups from around the world. Then the Western Hemisphere will really have something to worry about.
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