The Venezuelan military has invaded and seized a food distribution center in Caracas used by national food and beer corporation Polar, as well as American companies Nestle and Pepsi. 12,000 tons of food, six million liters of soft drinks, and 2,000 jobs are now at risk in a nation suffering major food shortages and a collapsed economy.
Bloomberg reports that the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro is justifying the theft of the distribution center as a just “expropriation” for the construction of public housing, suspiciously close to congressional elections for a president whose popularity has taken a nosedive in the past year.
Expropriation is popular among the lowest class of Venezuelans, who see it often as the only way for them to acquire property. “There is an economic war here and this company, Polar, is at the heart of it. They hide products from the population, and inflate their prices!” Carmen Arreaza, a Maduro supporter, told Bloomberg.
Venezuelans with jobs—increasingly rare in an economy estimated to be suffering 615 percent inflation—adamantly oppose moves against national businesses, often the only suppliers of stable income. A number of Polar employees remained at the factory in protest, demanding the military let them continue their work and earn some pay. “If we don’t work, we don’t eat,” Carlos Muñoz, a truck driver for Polar, told CNBC. “There’s no food in Venezuela and now they do this! How are people going to eat?”
Polar runs Pepsi’s operations throughout Venezuela, in addition to producing 80 percent of the nation’s beer. Maduro has referred to the president of Polar as a “bigwig” and vowed to curb the company’s power, which may result in a shortage of beer in a nation where cheap alcohol was previously the only easily attainable commodity.
Thanks to a combination of rationing and severe shortages caused by socialist policies, the average Venezuelan must spend between four to six hours in a grocery shopping line to purchase necessary goods such as vegetable oil, milk, and flour. The situation is so dire that it has generated its own industry; some Venezuelans work professionally as line-position-keepers, who get paid to hold a spot in a grocery line for their client.
The Polar expropriation, according to the company’s director of food distribution Manuel Felipe Larrazábal, will affect 12,000 tons of food, six million liters of soft drinks, and more than 9,900 clients. Two of its breweries have been forced to shut down, cutting beer production, as well.
The International Crisis Group published a report this week titled” Venezuela: An Inevitable Disaster,” chronicling how a major food shortage and political upheaval caused by the erosion of barely-there democratic infrastructures has led to “a medical emergency,” “decline in production,” “poverty and hunger,” warning that, without major changes to the functioning of the government, Venezuela is doomed to failure.