Mérida, March 21st, 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Over the weekend Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced his government’s plans to manage a 50% stake in the national food distribution system by the end of this year. As part of the plan, the country’s Ministry of Food and Nutrition is set to release over 100 mobile ‘areperas socialistas’ to sell the Venezuelan people their popular corn-based tortilla at worksites nationwide.
Speaking from Miraflores Presidential Palace during his weekly ‘Aló Presidente’ television address, Chávez on Sunday announced his approval of the BsF 3.0 billion (US$ 700 million) needed to increase monthly government food distribution amounts from the current 170,000 tonnes (33% of the food supply) to 300,000 tonnes (50%) by 31 December 2011.
Chávez made the announcement in conjunction with the televised inauguration of a publicly-owned supermarket named ‘Hiper-Pdval La Mora’ in the state of Aragua.
According to Aragua state governor Rafael Isea, an estimated 12,000 local residents will benefit from the store’s 650 tonnes of permanently available food items sold at 25 to 30% below “capitalist market prices.” In addition, the supermarket is to incorporate 10 large trucks as part of its effort to take ‘mobile groceries’ to nearby communities with difficulties reaching the store’s main location.
The total amount invested in opening this one new food outlet reached BsF 9.15 million (US$ 2.13 million).
“This is about food for the people, nutrition for the people,” said Chávez. “And we’ll continue to inaugurate Pdvals and Mercals as we struggle against speculation, against hoarding, against shortages. This is about food security and food sovereignty,” he affirmed.
“We were doing a comparison of the butcher shops,” said Chávez. “One kilo of high-quality meat is sold [by private butchers] for BsF 30 (US$ 7), while at Pdval or Mercal we sell it for BsF 10 (US$ 2.32). And we aren’t loosing money, we are only preventing foods from falling into those mechanisms of the capitalist intermediaries,” he explained.
Launched in 2008 with the objective of fighting private sector hoarding of foods, Pdval is a wholly-owned food subsidiary of Venezuela’s publicly-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). PDVSA’s food company purchases basic food products (dairy, meats, etc.) from both Venezuelan and international producers and redistributes them to the Venezuelan people at subsidized prices.
Mercados de Alimentos, C.A. (Mercal), on the other hand, is a state-run company with a nationwide chain of food stores. Established in 2003 as part of Mission Mercal, the company is the Chavez government’s response to the 2002 opposition lockout that brought the Venezuelan economy to a halt.
Mobile Food Security
Carlos Osorio, Venezuela’s Minister of Food and Nutrition, joined Chávez to discuss new ways in which his ministry intends to increase food access to the Venezuelan people. Of the numerous strategies discussed, the two highlighted the soon-to-be-released mobile ‘areperas socialistas’ and numerous mobile butcher shops.
While the government currently distributes 5 million tones of food daily using its mobile units, explained Osorio, his ministry’s plans to open 100 mobile ‘areperas’ and an undisclosed number of motorized butcher shops that will “greatly improve” the people’s access to their basic food needs.
The original ‘Areperas Socialistas’ are government-owned restaurants that sell the most common of all Venezuelan foods – the arepa. An arepa is a corn-based tortilla that is grilled, slit open, and stuffed with any combination of ingredients (chicken, black beans, others meats and/or cheeses).
According to a U.S. embassy document released by Wikileaks in late 2010, the Chávez government, “made socialism taste better with the December 22 (2009) opening of a "socialist arepera" serving Venezuelan-style tortillas at a fraction of their usual price.”
According to Minister Osorio, the 100 mobile ‘areperas socialistas’ “will help in the fight against junk foods,” as they will focus their breakfast and lunch distribution efforts at worksites of the nation’s industrial workforce. The objective of the mobile units, he said, is to provide a “high quality meal” to Venezuelan workers, “at a fair price.”
Osorio thanked Venezuela’s communal councils as well as the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) for their ongoing support in this effort.
“We’re going to put mobile butcher shops all over the place, with 40, up to 50% savings,” said Chávez. “The mobile butchers allow us to reach the people’s doorsteps, reach every neighborhood’s corner,” he said.
According to Chávez, the cost of equipping each mobile butcher is BsF 1.6 million (US$ 372,000). Each one of these “luxurious butcher shops,” as Chávez called them, carries with it sufficient meat products to attend to 1,600 citizens’ needs.
The dramatic increase in public spending and new mobile efforts to improve food access for the Venezuelan majority are part of Misión Alimentación, one of the Bolivarian Revolution’s first social missions first established in April 2003.
The mission is based on article 305 of the country’s constitution which stipulates, among other things, that: The State shall promote sustainable agriculture as the strategic basis for overall rural development, and consequently shall guarantee the population a secure food supply, defined as the sufficient and stable availability of food within the national sphere and timely and uninterrupted access to the same for consumers.