A Glass of Milk

School milk programs are a widely accepted source of nutrition for children everywhere. Although Venezuela has had such a program for decades, its execution has been less than ideal lately.

Today is the 18th World School Milk Day, celebrating the health benefits of school milk programs. To mark this occasion, I thought it would be fitting to write about the vaso de leche escolar – our version of the school glass of milk.

50 years before this catchy song sold the idea that the “Vaso de Leche Escolar solo es posible en Socialismo”, the program was conceived by an Adeco, and it’s not the self-proclaimed human rights activist, Diana D’agostino.

Rómulo Betancourt included the vaso de leche escolar in his government plan, the Primer Plan de La Nación 1960-1964. Focused on Distrito Federal, Falcón and Lara, nutrition was in the health plan, although it wasn’t considered an instrument of development.

The program was later proposed by Carlos Andrés Pérez during his first presidency, to the National Nutrition Institute, complementing the food protection policy through the comedores escolares in elementary public schools.

This program guaranteed a daily glass of milk pasteurized, powdered or as a concentrated biscuit, depending on the location and conditions of each school. Milk was chosen since it was a quality protein, inexpensive, popular and accepted by all social strata (Myers, 1994, Pag. 1). It also made sense when one notes that Venezuela’s per capita milk production reached its highest levels in the seventies and eighties.

Rómulo Betancourt included the vaso de leche escolar in his government plan, the Primer Plan de La Nación 1960-1964.

Like many social programs, it was a great idea on paper, with dozens of logistical problems in practice; truckers complained about security, teachers complained about the extra paperwork, and some even stole the milk, with companies promising to cover more schools than they actually could (Myers, 1994, Pag. 3-9).

However, the vaso de leche escolar is fondly remembered by its beneficiaries.

Javier, a collaborator at cuandoerachamo.com, wrote: “A lunch box at the time (the seventies) couldn’t go without a cuartico de leche. In the classroom, the teacher would pass the students, one by one, su cuartico de leche. And the best part came at recess. You’d grab an empty cuartico and play football with it. The famous Panchito.”  

In her blog, Rosa Mireya Marcano remembers she used to place black beans with soil in empty milk boxes to see how the plants grew in a germinator.

Luis Carlos Díaz was also a beneficiary of the program in the nineties. His school, Escuela Básica Teresa de Bolívar, in Charallave, received “Sur del Lago” milk and Lactovisoy. “La leche era cotidiana, every child would receive a glass; and if there was enough, a bottle was given to each one until they were finished, to take home.”   

In 1996, Rafael Caldera would later enforce the Programa de Alimentación Escolar, which substituted the Programa de Beca Alimentaria, to ensure a balanced daily meal to preschoolers, elementary school students from first through sixth grade and special education students, in public and private schools serving low-income students.

Interestingly enough, local milk production started to decline in the nineties. By 2007, per capita milk production reached 1952 levels, and 42.6% of milk and cheese had to be imported.

When price controls and other regulations led to milk shortages, the government decided to…

…Wait for it…

…BUY Lácteos Los Andes under penalty of expropriation if a purchase agreement wasn’t reached. Apparently, the central government thought it would be a much better milk producer and distributor.

At the time, Lácteos Los Andes (now known as Empresa Nacional Lácteos Los Andes, Enlandes) was the main producer of fluid pasteurized milk and second of other dairy products. But as of February 2017, Enlandes production had declined between 70% and 75%, due to shortages of supplies and raw materials.

And guess what company supposedly guaranteed the vaso de leche escolar todos los días to at least 25,200 students in 110 regional and national public schools? Yep, the revolutionary Enlandes.

While some could give away the milk received at school in the seventies, eighties and nineties, now many are going through garbage for crumbs of food.

Just like Naky reported, “Cáritas Venezuela confirmed that the amount of children with some degree of malnutrition in the poorest parishes of the states covered by the study , climbed from 54% to 68% between April and August; the trend tripled in four months. A larger number of malnutrition cases in all three forms, acute, moderate and severe, was registered. Those figures surpass the severity threshold that defines a crisis and push us closer to a food emergency.”

What really worries me is that chavistas try to sell the idea that this is all part of a plan to discredit the revolution. Take for instance Nosliw Rodríguez, a PSUV Deputy in the National Assembly: when opposition Deputies claimed that food is not guaranteed in public schools, she said that “Thanks to Commander Chávez, children eat 3 meals a day at school. What you [opposition Deputies] want is to turn the needs of our people into a show…  Lo único que hacen es hablar mal de nuestra Patria.”

While some could give away the milk received at school in the seventies, eighties and nineties, now many are going through garbage for crumbs of food.

Today, a daily glass of milk would make a huge difference for millions of Venezuelans.