Photo: Desde La Plaza retrieved
Last week, Spanish newspaper ABC published a controversial photo report of hunger in Venezuela. The images were so bleak that many left-wing outlets (and the Venezuelan government’s propaganda apparatus), assured they were taken in Yemen, not in Maracaibo. Álvaro Ybarra Zavala, the photographer, replied by posting a video of Miguel Blanco, the kid on the newspaper’s cover, on his Twitter account.
Just six years ago, the idea that Venezuela may even come close to resembling a war-torn country like Yemen would’ve been considered nonsense; in June 2013, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) awarded the Venezuelan government with a recognition for reducing hunger in Venezuela to half, compared to 1990. The move was extensively exploited by Nicolás Maduro’s propaganda apparatus to boost the image of the Bolivarian Revolution both inside and outside the country. Now, the same institution places Venezuela in its list of countries with a high risk of facing a severe deterioration in food security, only behind Yemen itself, and Sudan.
In the eyes of FAO, Venezuela is heading directly to a famine.
Contrary to other countries highlighted in the report, where armed conflict is the main driver behind the developing humanitarian emergencies, Venezuela’s situation can be explained by Maduro’s incredibly destructive policies: a 50% GDP decline since 2013, pushed by a dramatic reduction in oil production, coupled with a hyperinflationary crisis extending since November 2017, have driven 80% of citizens into food insecurity, which means that they can’t afford to be properly fed.
Furthermore, the number of malnourished people in Venezuela has tripled in just four years, from 3.6% in 2013 (when FAO awarded the government) to 11.7% in 2017, a gap of 3.7 million people. The current situation is unknown, but estimates by NGO Cáritas in November, 2018, suggest that up to 22.9% of all children under five years may be mildly or severely malnourished. The bleak conditions have already forced 3.4 million Venezuelans away from the country, and the United Nations expects two more million will do so by the end of 2019, creating a complex migratory crisis for neighbouring countries like Brazil and especially Colombia, where over one million Venezuelans are already living.
FAO doesn’t expect the situation to improve. A chronic shortage of diesel fuel and imported certified seeds, as well as machinery and equipment have hit Venezuelan agriculture hard. Sorghum production for 2019 is expected to round the 35,000 tons; half the 70,000 tons produced back in 2017. A similar situation is foreseen with most crops, which according to the report, will only cover about 20% of the country’s demands. The precarious conditions make plantations susceptible to the spread of diseases, as happened last year with an outbreak of Yellow Dragon Disease, a bacterial condition affecting citrics.
The whole point of the report is to emit recommendations that help prevent famine in the near future, but reading them feels futile. FAO is asking for things like, “strengthen the participatory forest management approach among indigenous communities residing in protected areas in order to improve disaster risk management” to the same regime that systematically destroys national parks and kills its indigenous communities to exploit gold.
FAO’s mistake is the same committed by countless other UN agencies: assuming chavismo cares about something else beyond its own survival, misreading the situation that has made most Venezuelans extremely skeptical about the real help these institutions can provide. What makes FAO think that the same people who weaponized hunger for years have any interest in preventing a famine?
Maduro and his cronies don’t have time to “design and implement agricultural production units/systems that do not depend on external inputs.” They’re too busy doing military parades in Fuerte Tiuna and trying to keep themselves afloat, no matter how much suffering it means to regular Venezuelans.