Caracas, July 19, 2004–In a country that has long endured wide social disparity created by an oil economy in which oil revenues reached only a small minority while the majority suffered from poverty, the government of Venezuela initiated a new program meant to provide emergency relief to those Venezuelans most in need.
Yesterday Chavez announced the creation of a new food program to benefit the poorest of Venezuelans; adults and children who live on the street. Chavez said the program will draw from the existing Mercal (Mercados de Alimentos) food security program, which consists of government supermarkets with basic food supplies at fixed discount prices.
Chavez announced that one thousand houses for prepared food distribution will be opened next week, each house with the capacity to feed approximately 100 people, adults as well as street children, who Chavez called “Children of the fatherland.”
The food used for preparation will come from the Mercal supermarkets and staff will be in charge of cooking and serving the food. Those that will most benefit from the program are pregnant women, seniors, and children who live on the street, Chavez said.
Four thousand food houses are scheduled to be built to serve the needs of 600,000 people in extreme poverty. Chavez explained that the new program is temporary until that number of people can be taken out of “that abyss of misery” permanently. Chavez said that 700 houses will be opened in September, one thousand in October and 500 in November.
Yesterday Chavez also expanded the Mercal program by opening 18 “Supermercales” in 14 states throughout the country. Chavez said the Mercal program already benefits more than 8 million Venezuelans a month, offering more than 3 thousand tons of food daily at discount prices.
According to the President’s press office, one Supermercal, opened in San Cristobal, a city near the border with Colombia, has a capacity to store 450 thousand metric tons of provisions, 5 tons of fresh produce, and 5 metric tons of frozen food. Mercal functions in all 24 states of the country, offering more than 3 tons of food daily, benefiting more than 8 million people per month.
In the country there are 7,287 small Mercal stores, 565 mid size Mercales, 207 large size Mercales, 221 mobile Mercales, and 82 warehouses. The government introduced these markets largely in response to the oil-industry shut-down, when privately held food distribution centers were closed and the country’s food distribution network was threatened with collapse. The government’s food distribution network ended up replacing large parts of the private network, thus providing food security to the country, while at the same time introducing a system to susidize food to the country’s poor.