By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The embattled administration of Nicolas Maduro defended itself on Tuesday -- publically and on the record --against rumors that refuse to go away: that it was using the CLAP, a polemical, party-based food rationing mechanism, to sell food originally donated by Mexico and other foreign governments.
“No sir, nobody is donating any food to us,” CLAP head Freddy Bernal told all-news Union Radio during an interview, after being asked specifically about the Mexican allegations. “Of the few dollars we have managed to save in the midst of this economic war we have been buying the aliments from wherever we have to buy it from.“
Bernal is a longtime “chavista”: in 1992, as a police commandant, he was one of the few civilians that backed the failed coup attempt by an unknown Lieutenant Colonel of the paratroopers. Hugo Chavez, the coup organizer, also went to jail briefly, but was elected President in 1998 after that spectacular first act in national politics.
Some of Bernal’s comments during the radio interview were aimed directly at opposition listeners who propagate the Mexican rumors: “There is no humanitarian aid here, Senor Countryman from the Opposition, so you better stay quiet with that Mexico stuff. We buy it wherever we have to buy it and we combine that with the national production that needs to increase more and more,” Bernal said.
It is telling that Bernal chose to dispel the rumors on Union Radio, a privately-owned station, when the government is the largest media owner in Venezuela, with hundreds of radio and television stations.
Rumors about CLAP selling donated food, as the interviewer told Bernal, originated in Mexico, where some of the food sold through the scheme comes from. Most of the mentions come from Mexican TV station TV Azteca, quoting no other than President Pena Nieto, saying that the food sold through the CLAPs is donated by Mexico. A cursory @LAHT social-media search revealed plenty of mentions, but no firm reports, by TV Azteca or any other media outlets.
However, it must be remembered that TV Azteca was taken off the air and blocked by the Maduro administration two weeks ago, together with CNN en Espanol.
A typical mention, by former Lara state governor Orlando Fernandez: “The big business these red bandits have with the Mexican food in the Claps is becoming of criminals. That’s what they say in Mexico.” Fernandez is a journalist by trade.
CLAP is the Venezuelan acronym for “Local Committees for Supply and Production” but, as Bernal noted during the interview, the committees are not yet producing anything and most of the food (more than 90% according to local press) is actually not even produced in Venezuela, but imported, the majority of it from the US, the bete noire of the “chavista” regime of Maduro and his mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez.
THE FOOD SOVIETS
CLAP has caught a lot of flak since its inception a year ago, with critics arguing that only government supporters are allowed to buy the boxes of price-controlled foodstuffs.
“All the power to the CLAPs!” thundered Maduro when he created the scheme, mimicking the early refrain of the Bolshevik revolution “All the power to the Soviets!”
However, after one full year in operation, the CLAP can only sell price-controlled food to between 35 to 50% of the population once a month, and that’s according to government figures. And yes, the food is sold by 30,000 “popular power” organizations affiliated with the Maduro government, Bernal conceded.
Weeks ago, the US Treasury Department designated Samark Lopez, a Venezuelan businessman tied to the CLAP scheme since its creation, as a “kingpin” in the drug trade together with Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, making El Aissami the first ever sitting Vice President to be included in that list.