Earlier this year, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro unveiled a new initiative to address the South American country’s severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global oil prices. Known as CLAPs, the Local Provision and Production Committees are partnerships between grassroots activists organized in communal councils and the government aimed at providing direct house to house food distribution to communities based on evaluated need. The new program has been touted as a streamlined alternative to long queues for government-subsidized products, which have become highly unpopular.
In a short video segment for the Mirada interactive opinion series, Atenea Jiménez of the National Communal Network offers a critical analysis of the CLAPs, discussing both their strengths and their shortcomings.
The CLAPs are an advance in terms of state’s organizational capacity to have food arrive more effectively house-by-house in each communal council. However, we of the National Communal Network have some observations regarding the organization of the CLAPs. We say that it’s a step forward because up until now, the policy of the government was open-air markets, which can engender bachaqueo* and hoarding, because they weren’t led by the effective organization of our people.
But in a way the CLAPs ignore the whole trajectory of popular organization coming before. Why do I say this? Because they are based on a new structure, ignoring the structure that already exists in the communes, the spokespeople that exist. Let’s take note that the CLAPs establish a new structure of leaders [jefaturas] when we in the spirit of participatory and protagonist democracy handed down by our Commander Hugo Chávez have already been advancing not as leaders, but as delegated spokespeople and citizen assemblies. And we felt that these street and parochial leaders is a step backwards, disregarding everything that our popular organization has been doing. If Commander Chávez said “commune or nothing”, if we should take up the banner of “strike at the helm”, the commune is the center of social life. It’s the fundamental nuclei from which we build socialism, which we are constructing day after day so every commune has a census of its community, including what each and every one of us consumes in our homes. That is, there’s greater precision from the point of view of planning.
Another problem with the CLAPs is what they distribute. We have been saying that the economic war is a class struggle in which the bourgeoisie is targeting the people, not only the government and the revolution in general, but the entire Venezuelan people in order to change the government and restore neoliberalism. This we have been saying– we know it, we are convinced. How do we tell our people that the same figures who are leading the economic war– the same ones who are hoarding and inducing an inflation of the prices of products that go up every day and every week– this same bourgeoisie is now going to distribute food products. The CLAPs distribute products from Polar and other large companies. Symbolically this is already a political error that must be dealt with. Symbolically this means that we have been defeated, because we are distributing the food produced by Mendoza.** But we are not distributing the food produced by our own farmers, by our fishermen and fisherwoman, and by our comuneros and comuneras.*** We have been doing this ourselves incipiently with many weaknesses, but the CLAPs don’t join in as we have proposed.
We– not only the National Communal Network, but other organizations as well– have been developing extremely interesting and important processes of planned distribution of food that arrives house by house. But we distribute what our own people produce. I think that our proposal should be that every commune, every communal council has its distribution planned and its consumption tied to production. I think we must more and more deepen the planning process. Without planning we cannot win this war that is going to continue, because as long as we uphold socialism, there will be war against imperialism. So, I think that we have to better regulate the details of the production process so that each commune is clear regarding how much it consumes and from where those food products come from. As these products arrive house by house to each family, the regulation of this process of production, distribution, and assemblage should be increasingly consolidated.
I don’t think that the CLAPs should disappear. I think that the CLAPs could take into account the elements we’ve mentioned so that this provisioning process is strengthened and perfected so that we can increasingly access the products we need and advance towards changing our consumption patterns. I think that the CLAPs are an interesting exercise, because the people in our communal councils have learned a lot of important things. Others have already been applying these practices under the banner of popular power from before the creation of the CLAPs. But I think that we should even be pushing for the whole population to be part of the CLAPs, because it’s been said that the middle classes are not going to have access to the program. We as the National Communal Network have been receiving requests for provision of food products from middle class people, because the entire Venezuelan people is vulnerable, not that some are while others not. Since crises are opportunities, I think we should push so the CLAPs serve to motivate these middle class sectors to organize communal councils and strengthen themselves. That is, the CLAPs should serve to explain to the population the benefits or rather the positive elements for each community– regardless of its social class– of being organized in order to supply its own food, and not only in this moment of crisis.
Let this crisis be a moment to advance towards that goal. I think the CLAPs should take into account these elements in order to be stronger and better.
* Bachaqueo or Bachaquerismo refers to the widespread practice of hoarding government subsidized products (i.e. corn flower, toilet paper, etc.) and reselling them at exorbitant black market rates.
** Lorenzo Mendoza is the son of one of Venezuela’s wealthiest aristocratic families. He is the president of Polar, the country’s largest food distributor, which has been accused of hoarding by the government.
*** “Comunero” literally translates to “communard” or member of one of Venezuela’s 46,566 registered communes.
Transcribed, translated, and edited by Lucas Koerner for Venezuelanalysis.com.