Food Card to Combat Scarcity Unveiled

A controversial food card intended to combat scarcity was introduced on Sunday by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.  


Santa Elena de Uairén, 19th March 2014 ( Workers marched to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Misión Alimentación on Sunday, Venezuela’s vastly accessible nutritional program, launched by Hugo Chavez in 2003.

During that time the program created more than 22,000 distribution points ranging from supermarket-sized stores to neighborhood bodegas; selling nutritional staples at prices subsidized by up to 80%.

The government has long cited the mission as part of efforts to reduce malnutrition.

According to Venezuela’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), child malnutrition in Venezuela was found to have been reduced by 58.5%, from 7.7% to 3.2% in 1990 and 2010, respectively.

“Compared to the 4th Republic [the regime that preceded Chavez], there is plenty of access to nutrition. Now you don’t see hunger in the streets like before,” said Belkys Mogollón, resident of La Guaira, as she stood amongst the congregation of people celebrating in front of the presidential palace, Miraflores.

President Nicolas Maduro met the workers outside of Miraflores, outlining in his speech a development of the program that is meant to combat scarcity.

Scarcity has been pointed to as a source for recent unrest, despite a number of distributing vehicles from Misión Alimentación being burned by student protestors in the states of Carabobo, Táchira and Zulia in the past few weeks.

According to the government, one reason for scarcity is that private companies hoard food in hopes to then sell them for higher prices as demand rises. In the first half of 2013, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles was campaigning against Nicolas Maduro for presidency, at least 40,000 tons of food was found hidden in different locations across the country. At the time Maduro regularly referred to the hoarding as “economic warfare.”

Another important reason is just how attractive their subsidized prices are for smugglers looking to make a profit. A one kilogram bag of sugar sold through any of Misión Alimentación’s distributors can cost between 2 and 6 bolivars. In Colombia, a bag of Venezuelan sugar can sell for as much as 150 bolivars.

A bag of powdered milk, yet another staple for Venezeulan households, costs around 30 bolivars when sold at its regulated price. In Brazil, its worth 600 bolivars. The price difference makes Venezuela a popular shopping destination for Brazilians and Colombians alike, who, often use the black market rate.

In his address on Sunday, Maduro cited that of the subsidized products sold by the two main distributing organizers, Mercal and Pdval, more than 40% leave the country.

He went on to describe the Food Card, or Ensured Supply Card. The free, non-mandatory bank card will give the user certain benefits, and is primarily meant to combat contraband and price speculation.

According to Maduro, the card represents a marriage between the Mision Alimentación and the Fair Price Law, enabled late last year amid rampant speculation when certain chain stores were found to have marked prices up as much as 1,200%. The card is expected to bring greater efficiency to both initiatives.

Upon mention of the card, members of the opposition were up in arms via Twitter, calling it a “Cuban rationing card” and implying that the biometrics fingerprint census required to receive the card is an imposition on consumer freedom and privacy.

Roberto León Parilli, president of the Consumer Alliance ANAUCO, said “by connecting Mercal, Pdval and Bicentenario [three distributors of subsidized foodstuffs], the control the government employs upon people will only worsen.”

But private supermarkets will also enter the network; and though the official details have not yet been released, all signs point to the card working similarly to a loyalty card. Special deals and benefits will be awarded to members, while nonmembers will still be able to make purchases in the same places.

Details as to what the requirements will be to get a card, and exactly how the system will work are to be released this week.