By Rachael Boothroyd & Lucas Koerner, Caracas
Grafitti reads: “Less beer, more food. Release the food Lorenzo Mendoza!” Photo via Venezuela Analysis.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of a National Productive Corporation on February 22, as part of a new socialist enterprise system aimed at coordinating efforts among existing state, communal and mixed firms.
Speaking from the Ana Maria Campo Petrochemical Complex in Zulia state, the socialist leader said the new entity would be tasked with unifying the more than 1000 public enterprises in a “single vision of planning, management, productivity, and maximum efficiency”.
The new corporation will aim to coordinate the efforts of key public firms, such as the state-owned oil company and other sectors of state-run industry.
The moves comes amid severe economic problems, including shortages of various goods, in part caused by what the government calls an “economic war” by private business aimed at undermining the socialist government.
As well as improving efficiency, the new body is aimed tackling what Maduro called “the corruption that has entered all levels of the distributive process like a cancer.”
The president’s announcements come as the country’s National Assembly, controlled by the right-wing opposition, debates a new law that the pro-government Chavistas warn will pave the way for privatising public enterprises.
Maduro denounced the bill as aiming to “privatise and plunder the country”, urging workers to mobilise in defence of the public sector. “The working class must take to the streets to confront and defeat [the law], you can count on my support to defeat it,” he said.
In a grassroots response to shortages and economic sabotage, protesters in working-class western Caracas hijacked trucks belonging to Venezuela’s biggest private food chain, Polar, on February 18, demanding the company cease hoarding essential goods.
The Polar food and beverage conglomerate is Venezuela’s largest private food provider, selling a range of products from beer to corn flour. But its owner, millionaire Lorenzo Mendoza, has been accused of hoarding food.
Venezuela’s socialist government also accused Mendoza of misappropriating state-subsidised dollars for imports and conspiring with right-wing politicians to oust the nation’s elected government.
One protester said: “We communities in Catia decided to come out onto the streets in protest because there is not food to be got.”
Community media showed images of at least five Polar trucks daubed with slogans such as “release the food, Lorenzo Mendoza” and “we don’t want poison, we want food for the people”.
One Catia resident, who demanded that food be handed over to communities for direct distribution, said: “In Catia more than 100 trucks with beer and fizzy drinks enter on a daily basis … but no trucks with food! That’s why we have taken a decision to put pressure on Polar, those carrying out destabilisation and smuggling.”
In a video dozens of protesters surround the vehicles, some wearing pro-government T-shirts, chanting, “We want food, we don’t want beer”. Some accused Polar of flooding the working-class barrios with beer to “poison” residents, while others said they were sick of queuing to buy food.
“We know that they have warehouses full of food, but here in the barrio they’re selling beer,” said another resident.