Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

The U.S. Treasury Department announced on July 25th a brand new series of sanctions against several individuals and companies for its involvement in the infamous CLAP food program. Close relatives of Nicolás Maduro and notorious Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who’s considered to be the center of the network, are on the list. 

“Alex Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population. Treasury is targeting those behind Maduro’s sophisticated corruption schemes, as well as the global network of shell companies that profit from the former regime’s military-controlled food distribution program,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The corruption network that operates the CLAP program has allowed Maduro and his family members to steal from the Venezuelan people. They use food as a form of social control, to reward political supporters and punish opponents, all the while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through a number of fraudulent schemes.”

CLAP is a subsidized food program involving the sales at low prices to citizens closely controlled by PSUV-managed lists, with some stores in the cities. With this scheme, the Maduro regime exploits the extended food insecurity: those who need this subsidized food (meaning, most Venezuelans) better follow the rules, like supporting the regime. The program is also an important source of corruption, with purchases from political allies such as Turkey.

As expected, the Maduro government reacted with the usual tale of “U.S. interference” that doesn’t hold water, given how Mexican authorities took similar measures days earlier against a group of 19 people and companies with alleged involvement in the CLAP scheme. 

But this latest development comes as the clearest proof of the power of investigative journalism:  Venezuelan outlet Armando.Info has covered in detail the global scope that lies behind the CLAP food program, at quite a heavy price: the journalists involved were forced into exile because of a lawsuit presented by Saab’s lawyers in a Caracas court. The hegemony has used that as an excuse to openly impose censorship on the site, including pressure on the main internet service providers in Venezuela to block Armando.Info’s website.

But it’s been for naught; journalist Joseph Poliszuk, one of the co-founders of the outlet, was awarded the Knight International Journalism Award last year. In his acceptance speech, he addressed the situation that him and his colleagues Roberto Deniz, Ewald Scharfenberg and Alfredo Meza face. 

“My colleagues and I could go to jail for reporting the truth on the food corruption scandal. One of our greatest challenges is to explain that corruption is not just an economic issue; corruption also kills.”

The work that Armando.Info has done cannot be underestimated. We, at Caracas Chronicles, have followed it, although it’s far from over: until they can return safely to their homeland, until their content is no longer censored by the state and until those who use the hunger of many as a way to profit finally face justice, the struggle for truth will continue. And they’re not alone. 

You can read their latest take on the CLAP for free (but only in Spanish).

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