In this interview with Major General Hebert García Plaza, head of the High Commission for the People’s Defence of the Economy, the government minister argues that the national executive’s strategy to defeat the “economic war” being waged by opponents of the Bolivarian revolution is resulting in “early victories”. The High Commission was established by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro in September to combat phenomena such as product hoarding and uneven distribution of foodstuffs which the government says contribute to shortages and other economic problems being experienced in Venezuela this year. The original interview appeared in pro-government newspaper Ciudad CCS, and was translated by Venezuelanalysis.com.
Ciudad CCS: Why is the right-wing attacking the economy now?
Herbert García Plaza: In private meetings with some ministers of the High Commission, President Maduro informed us that there is a group of specialists solely and exclusively dedicated to studying the Venezuelan economy in order to weaken it. They [the conservative opposition] realised that the only way to end the [Bolivarian] revolution is by weakening the economy; not through ideological confrontation, not through the electoral process, but rather through damaging the economy. The president saw this scenario and called for an offensive, which is an action taken by one’s own initiative and not the product of enemy action. Because of this the High Commission has been created, [which is] supported by government ministries, people power and the armed forces.
How is this attack materialised?
First, by taking foreign currency out [of the Venezuelan economy]; currency which is the product of oil sales and is administered by the national government [note: Venezuela has maintained controls on foreign currency exchange since 2003 to avoid capital flight]. It is a concerted action that brings together the national interests of the right-wing, those who hope that this government will fall, and transnational companies. By drying the country of foreign currency a process of corruption is favoured because some of the dollars that in good faith the government hands over to companies aren’t converted into goods for the enjoyment of Venezuelans.
What other concrete actions do they execute?
There are silent, hardly visible actions, such as for example a distribution process for stock replenishment that is perhaps being used to better supply supermarkets in the middle and upper class zones that those located in lower income zones. This occurs in some food distribution and sale networks and we’re monitoring it. Other food distributors lend themselves to a perverse campaign and hoard products to then be distributed through the informal market to avoid regulated prices. They are feeding an informal logistical chain to avoid price controls. [note: in Venezuela the prices of some basic foodstuffs and personal hygiene items are regulated in order to protect consumers from the effect of high inflation]
All of this is accompanied by a media war, an operation of psychological warfare where the country is made to live in anxiety of possible deficiencies in the supply of food, personal items, petrol, electricity; a set of variables without end so that the Venezuelan loses faith in the Bolivarian government. This psychological warfare has been studied so well that they make some people think that the situation is bad because [Hugo] Chavez isn’t here. This is so that a social explosion occurs and it’s the people themselves that end the Bolivarian revolution, when we know that we are all Chavez, even more so President Maduro, who worked with him [Chavez] since 1994.
Another distorting element in the Venezuelan economy is that a part of the business sector has become dependent on importation [for profits] and whose only purpose is to receive foreign currency allocations. These companies have converted the production of finished food products into a solely and exclusively financial exercise: to obtain cheap foreign currency to buy food or parts abroad, [and sell them in Venezuela] at exaggeratedly high prices, pocketing the difference.
The creativity of foreign currency speculators in Venezuela doesn’t have limits and every new form of regulation or control that the state applies to the currency market is made fun of by astute mechanisms designed in laboratories of financial engineering.
What is the state doing to confront these currency mafias?
We are creating a register of companies that request dollars from Cadivi [the state’s currency exchange commission] to be able to evaluate their actions over time. We’re also setting up a database of the market prices of goods that are normally imported for use in Venezuela. Up to now we don’t have a referential price list. The other thing that is being done is to strengthen the public agent in charge of imports for all the productive [economic] sectors in Venezuela, a state import company.
Is price speculation one of the issues that most worries the population?
On this issue we ask the population’s support to not buy something that doesn’t have a reasonable price. We also ask the population to campaign to create consciousness in those people that are being used through the informal market to sell regulated products at excessively high prices. We need to talk to the street seller and convince them that it’s not right. They [the opposition] are seeking to pit the people against the people, or the armed forces against the people.
What else can citizens do in this situation?
Evidently they can help in the monitoring process, denouncing irregularities such as hoarding or excessive prices. Chavez always talked about social monitoring, and this is part of social monitoring. For example, the functioning of supermarkets should be controlled by people’s power, because a situation such as when there are twenty checkouts and only ten employees working is an irregularity that the people have to denounce.
The other thing is creating consciousness and avoiding that Venezuelans fall into the trap of panic buying. We’ve asked the Venezuelan people in their different organisations, especially Venezuelan women, that they help us to create consciousness, to say to people in the supermarkets that they should do their shopping in a rational way, that they don’t buy more than is necessary. This is a task that we’re doing through the Ministry for Women, it’s a job that we’ve asked of the population and is being done.
With the organised people we’re doing more than 600 food distribution activities each week and due to this the president says that we’re going to emerge strengthened. We’re creating a distribution network with the communes and directly with families so that social monitoring can be undertaken and the people have access to products and don’t go to the informal sector. This is a strength that’s going to get the government out of this economic war [victoriously].
Why do some products not appear in the shops?
More than 350 products can be distributed in a supermarket. It’s possible that during some moment of the day one, two or three products don’t exist. It’s also possible that people are very attached to a brand and if that brand isn’t present then they feel like the product isn’t there. There are very well planned rumour techniques, for example, people that dedicate themselves to spreading the word that chicken will arrive in the supermarket at 11am and so queues form before that time, including by people that don’t even eat chicken. Then in two or three hours the stock runs out, and so the people that go to the supermarket in the afternoon believe that there isn’t any chicken.
Another perverse practice is not placing [in demand] stock on the shelves but rather leaving it on the floor, so a person sees an empty shelf and then the product on the floor, and by instinct they take five or six packets. We have taken corrective actions and we’ve obligated state-run and private shops to have their products on shelves: sales process should be done on correct terms.
What can the media do?
We ask media of communication to help us create consciousness. Let’s not fall for this game that’s hurting us: making Venezuelans panic buy and have an unusual home storage, with the risk that food is then wasted. The consequence is that what is normally established as consumption according to population density in a normal period of stock replenishment is exceeded.
Why did the president say that this battle will be decided in October?
The conspirators have proposed that October will be the month of economic collapse, and as such, of the national government. Because of this the president denounces that they [the opposition] are not campaigning, they aren’t putting their stakes on the 8 December elections; they are putting their bets on the collapse of the government. That’s why the president talks about October as the scenario for an early victory in the economic war.
Over half of the month has now passed. What is the situation at this point?
I can say as head of the High Commission that we are winning early victories. We guarantee victory in this month of October, to ensure peace, calm, and a happy Christmas.