The announcement came as the government and citizens celebrated the 9th anniversary of the popular social program Mercal, which supplies subsidized food products to Venezuelans and insulates consumers from the volatility of national and international prices.
From its humble origins of only 3 small shops and two warehouses that distributed a mere 45,000 tons in 2003, the food program has grown to provide distribution centers throughout the nation’s 23 states and closed 2011 supplying 3.7 million tons of products to the South American country’s residents.
“We advanced in 2011 and closed the year with 14,948,690 people who visited our establishments”, Minister Osorio said during the opening of a meat distribution center in the neighborhood of San Juan in the capital of Caracas.
As evidence of the program’s effectiveness, Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua cited Mercal’s recognition by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “as one of the fundamental instruments that has allowed Venezuela to be at the vanguard of the fight against hunger”.
Speaking during a tour of one of the government’s markets in the state of Miranda, the Vice President informed that the program has subsidized more than 7 billion bolivars ($1.6 billion) worth of products in 2012, resulting in a savings of between 50 and 60 percent for residents when compared with commercial retail outlets.
Specifically, Jaua highlighted the prices of some products such as cooking oil, which is available at a savings of 79 percent while chicken is sold for 69 percent less than the normal regulated price. The same is true for red meat, which is offered at half of the price found in private outlets.
“Thanks to [President Hugo] Chavez, the poor also now have the right to eat meat and they can buy it in Mercal at only 7 bolivars ($1.62) a kilogram”, he stated.
As part of the celebratory activities marking Mercal’s 9th year of service, the government put on sale more than 3 million kilograms of food products last Saturday in 552 different sales points belonging to the state’s growing network of food distribution outlets.
“In socialism, food is a sacred right of the people and everyday it will continue to be more so while with capitalism it’s a business of the powerful”, Jaua asserted.
An Expanding Network
Apart from Mercal, the state’s distribution networks have also grown to include other outlets such as the Venezuelan Food Producer and Distributor (PDVAL) and the Bicentennial grocery market chain that have offered important products to residents at prices far below the private sector.
“Mercal continues to be directed towards the most disadvantaged sectors with a subsidy of more than 60, 70 and even in some cases 80 percent. Now we have the PDVAL network and the Bicentennial stores which are quickly developing so that all Venezuelans have access to food products”, the Minister said on Sunday.
PDVAL was created in 2008 as a program of the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) while the Bicentennial markets were founded after the state nationalized the French owned Exito grocery markets in January 2010.
The idea has been to ensure that the population has access to basic commodities and that the prices of such goods are shielded against the kind of speculation and hoarding that has become commonplace in the Venezuelan private market.
Specifically, the concept of Mercal arose after the Venezuelan right-wing, in its efforts to force the democratically-elected Hugo Chavez from the presidency, embarked upon an oil lockout at the end of 2002.
The economic sabotage shut down the nation’s privately owned and operated food distribution chains and brought widespread hardship to many in the country.
“The [government’s] Food Mission can only be possible in Socialism and is a consequence of the great battle that our people had during 2002 and 2003”, Vice President Jaua said on Saturday.
Programs such as Mercal, PDVAL and the Bicentennial markets also serve to protect the population against unscrupulous business practices seen in the everyday transactions of the marketplace.
In order to avoid price regulations enacted by the government, some food distributors and commercial retailers refuse to sell certain products, such as sugar or cooking oil, creating an artificial scarcity that forces staples into higher prices in a parallel market.
Between the three state programs that make up part of the Chavez administration’s Food Mission, government officials now report that the state’s expanding distribution network has more than 21,000 outlets, making speculation and hoarding by retailers more difficult.
This has also been followed by the establishment of popular “arepa” restaurants that sell the traditional corn meal patties at discounted prices in more than 230 mobile and fixed units in Venezuela.
While the cost of arepas can reach up to 50 bolivars ($11.62) in private venues depending on the meat, cheese or bean filling used, the price of the patty in state run facilities is only 7.5 bolivars ($1.74).
Writing on his Twitter account last Sunday, President Hugo Chavez praised the advancements being seen in terms of food security in Venezuela and congratulated the workers of the program for their success.
“Mission Mercal is only possible with a socialist government! Congratulations to everyone on this 9th Anniversary! Long Live Mercal!” he declared.