Onions And Caviar, Is It The Beginning Of The End? / 14ymedio, Luis Nieto

Lorena Freitez, Venezuela’s new Minister of Urban Agriculture
Lorena Freitez, Venezuela’s new Minister of Urban Agriculture

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Nieto, Montevideo, 3 March 2016 – On 21  January, the sociologist Lorena Freitez was appointed Minister of Urban Agriculture of Venezuela, replacing Emma Ortega, who had lasted only two weeks in office. The new minister launched an ambitious slogan: “Transforming consumer cities into productive cities.”

Freitez’s reasoning is that if 84 percent of the Venezuelan population lives in cities, and only 11 percent in the countryside, it seems obvious that cities, taking advantage of the productive space they have, can produce the food they need, without needing to rely on imports and the little produced by the 11 percent who live in the countryside. Her mission is to promote the “Productive Revolution” from the communes, according a Tweet from President Maduro’s at the time Emma Ortega was replaced by the young sociologist.

A daughter of sociologists, the young Chavista activist is known for her dedication to the creation of “collectives,” groups of militant “Bolivarians,” always ready to say yes to whatever comes their way. One of the collectives funded by the young sociologist, “Tiuna El Fuerte,” can be defined certainly not for its knowledge of agriculture, but for its commitment to the hard core of the Cuban and Venezuela military who support the Chavista regime. Fuerte Tiuna is headquartered at the Defense Ministry, which is also the principle enclave of the regime’s Armed Forces and it various Intelligence Agencies. Someone who organizes the so-called “colectivos”  — vigilante gangs — in a such a select environment, is without a doubt a totally committed Chavista.

There is no doubt that in any serious country a ministry under the name of “Urban Agriculture” has not prospered. It would not have been permitted by a parliament with common sense and independence, not would ordinary people have allowed it. What is driving Maduro now? Nothing less than using whatever piece of land is available to plant onions, potatoes and corn. It is a clear appeal to “every man for himself.”

In his ministerial appointment, formalized through Twitter, he argued that he and his wife Cilia raised 50 chickens at home, and that this is what any Venezuelan can do to easily overcome the food emergency. “The time has come to promote a new productive culture.” While the measures differ, this is the spirit of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or the forcible transfer to the countryside imposed by Pol Pot in Cambodia, to name just two examples that cost millions of human lives.

Chavez had already insisted on taking advantage of the green spaces in Caracas to produce food for the population. In a corner of the Miraflores Palace, seat of the government, he managed to harvest corn, tomatoes and peppers. In addition, he worked on a project to fill Caracas with vertical chicken coops, to be used by a large number of apartment buildings.

With regards to government innovation, we have to remember when Maduro decreed the Ministry of Supreme Human Happiness. One assumes that the new Minister of Urban Agriculture will advance over the green spaces of the major cities to fulfill the goal for which the new Ministry was created.

The mission does not stop at agricultural production wherever there is land available in the city, but urges the breeding of fowl and hens on apartment balconies and terraces, along with pigs and goats in the more arid parts of the city. This, lamentably, is not a joke. Searching the internet and reading the official propaganda confirms the importance of these initiatives to the Chavista regime, which has devoted millions of bolivars to it.

Today, from Caracas, we are asking them to disclose the state of Public Health, where the deficit of medicines is affecting children with cancer as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. There are no medicines, there is no food for the population, the popular vote left Chavismo without support from the Parliament, but the civil-military regime, as Chavismo likes to define itself, clings to the rickety raft of this tropical Titanic. Something the friends of Maduro, Cabello and the rest of the followers of the late Colonel Hugo Chavez should give some thought to.

Many are experts in surviving these unfortunate decisions of international solidarity, and when it is all over, and all that is left is the memory of the pain inflicted on the people of Venezuela, they will continue on in the name of the people. An abstract people, of course, using the political procedures manual to achieve power by democratic means, because on this, Chavismo wrote the book.

But not everything will be onions planted in pots and gardens. The opposition says that Chavismo has stolen from the public coffers an amount greater than Venezuela’s foreign debt. The National Assembly (a unicameral parliament), now in the hands of the opposition, has decided to launch an investigation into irregularities into the allocations to well-known names, such as José David Cabello, who holds the position of National Customs and Tax Superintendent and is the brother of Diosdado Cabello, former president of the National Assembly. Or the nephews of Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores, now prisoners in New York. Carlos Erik Malpica Flores, one of the nephews, was the nation’s treasurer, a function he alternated with cocaine smuggling.

General Rafael Oropeza and Colonel Felix Osorio, both former Ministers of Food, were responsible for containers of meat and poultry from Uruguay that were left to rot on the docks of the port of Maracaibo, because the business was not about food but about the hard currency that the Central Bank advanced, well above the official exchange rate, with which they later operated on the black market. The list is very long, and all those investigated have direct ties to Chavista power.

Parliamentary deputy Ismael García, who presented the initiative to form an investigative committee, argued that there is sufficient documentation to indicate that of the 230 million dollars allocated to carry goods and services to Venezuela, sixty percent ended up in shell companies, that overcharged and faked imports. The deputy said that according to documents in the hands of the National Assembly, the fraud reached 138 billion dollars over a decade. Money now needed to import medicines and food that should be being provided by the destroyed Venezuelan food industry. In 2014 alone, 400 million dollars in medicines was lost, never appearing in the stocks of the healthcare system. Meanwhile, Venezuela is the Latin American country with the greatest amount of money invested in armaments.

These ladies and gentlemen of the brokerages will not have to plant onions in car covers and whatever container can hold a little bit of earth, they are assured of caviar, the very best produced in Russia, one of the countries with which Venezuela maintains privileged trade relations.

Desperate for fresh hard currency, PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, has just sold to the Russian Rosneft 500 million dollars in shares of the Venezuelan state company PetroMonagas, of the Orinoco Belt; the Russians now have 40 percent of the shares in a company that, like so many others, is little by little letting the heritage of PDVSA seep away.

* Editor ‘s note: This column of opinion has been previously published in the Uruguayan weekly Voces. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.