Venezuela: Denied Bribes, Soldiers Allow Tons of Food to Rot in Ports

In this Dec. 19, 2016 photo, a National Guard soldier watches over cargo trucks leaving the port in Puerto Cabello in Venezuela, the port city that handles the majority of the country's food imports. Across the chain of command, from high-level generals to the lowest foot soldiers, military officials are …
AP Photo/Ricardo Nunes

An extensive Associated Press report unveiled that Venezuela’s military, now in full control of all food that enters the country, has been reselling it at astronomical markups.

The report revealed that corruption within the socialist regime’s military ranks does not end with reselling food stolen from the overall government supply — soldiers demand bribes from the moment food arrives in Venezuela’s ports through to their arrival on store shelves.

Venezuela now imports almost all of its food supply, the report notes, which means most of the food available in the country is subject to inspection upon arrival. Emboldened after socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro launched the Great Mission of Sovereign Supplying in July, which gave the military full control over the food supply, high-ranking military officials are milking the duty of “disciplining” food distribution for as many bribes as possible.

The Associated Press identified at least three major sources of bribes: overcharging for the food itself, demanding bribes from businessmen upon the arrival of ships filled with food, and extorting truck drivers for bribes at military checkpoints supposedly intended to hinder black market food trade.

The military, various food suppliers confirmed, vastly overcharge the government for the food, payments made from government coffers. Food suppliers then pay individual soldiers bribes, which they “can afford… because [officials] build huge profit margins into what they bill the state.” The scheme thus enriches soldiers at the expense of Venezuelans. The scheme is similar to that implemented at Brazil’s state-owned oil enterprise Petrobras, where officials overcharged contractors on construction projects and demanded the profits back in the form of bribes, according to prosecutors.

Once the food arrives, the AP reports, importers are forced to pay extravagant bribes to another set of soldiers. If they refuse, the food sits in the port and rots. Many importers pay the bribes to prevent the food from spoiling. The food that does spoil, reports indicate, is often buried nearby; savvy civilians are said to dig up the discarded food to eat.

The food that makes it through the bribery process at the ports is then handed over to distributors who drive it around the country. Every time a truck driver carrying food hits a military security checkpoint, a soldier demands a bribe. “Truckers say soldiers at about half the checkpoints demand bribes,” the AP reports. “Some invent infractions such as an insufficiently filled tire, and take cash along with sacks of pantry items, produce and even live chickens, the drivers said.”

The AP’s accusations follow months of intense looting throughout the country, as Venezuelans struggle to feed their families. Many of these looting incidents have targeted the military’s food supply, as this has become one of the only reliable sources of food in the country. Also on the list are the Socialist Party brigades known as the CLAP, which work in tandem with the military to distribute free food locally. Giving the Socialist Party discretion on whom to feed has given them political leverage, allowing them to deny food to those who do not participate in Socialist Party events or oppose Maduro’s regime.

Local reports suggest the CLAP leadership benefits as much as the military from their control of food. According to the opposition outlet Dolar Today, which tracks the black market value of the bolívar, CLAP leaders and Food Ministry officials received large Christmas baskets full of pork, liquor, and sweets shortly before the holiday.

The average Venezuelan struggles to eat three meals a day. A survey conducted in September found that 72 percent of Venezuelans could not provide three meals a day for their families, while 15 percent rely on finding food in garbage piles to survive. “We wait for them to throw out the scraps, and then we eat,” one woman said of the process, waiting outside a local grocery store for workers to get rid of unsellable fruits, vegetables, and meat.


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