The Venezuela military is reportedly involved in major corruption.
In 2004, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez created a Food Ministry, handing the control over the food industry to the military. His government nationalized farms and food processing plants, but later neglected them. As a result, the domestic production dried up and the country began importing food.
Food rationing grew so severe in 2014 that Venezuelans used to spend all day waiting in lines to get some bread and the hospitals were full of malnourished children. When people responded with street protests, President Nicolas Maduru handed military the complete control over ports and food distribution.
The army was in charge of everything from butter to rice, but instead of helping the country get over a crisis, it did the exact opposite and started making money off the terrible situation.
After a grocer named Jose Campos ran short of food staples, he discovered an illegal market where the military was selling food at a price 100 times the rate set by the government.
"The military would be watching over whole bags of money," Campos said. "They always had what I needed."
Food trafficking has become a big business in Venezuela, where most of its people are starving. The military is making money from the dire needs of the hungry nation, charging sky-high prices shamelessly. From generals to foot soldiers, everyone seems embroiled in the vicious net of corruption. As a result, the food isn’t reaching the ones who need it the most.
"Lately, food is a better business than drugs," said retired Gen. Cliver Alcala, who helped oversee Venezuela's border security. "The military is in charge of food management now, and they're not going to just take that on without getting their cut."
The Food Ministry's annual report showed a major surplus in payments when compared with market prices.
"What's amazing about this is, it's like a clean form of corruption," said Carabobo state legislator Neidy Rosal. "It's like drug trafficking you can carry out in broad daylight."
A single $52 million contract of a South American businessman to import yellow corn last year, seen by AP, included a potential overpayment of more than $20 million, compared with market prices at the time.
The corruption process starts right from time the cargo is unloaded — the customs officials take their cut and refuse to begin the process of nationalizing goods without a payment.
Once the cargo leaves the port, food traffickers have to pay heavy bribes to the military along the highways and checkpoints.
“It’s an unbroken chain of bribery from when your ship comes in until the food is driven out in trucks,” said Luis Pena, a director at the Caracas-based importer Premier Foods.
Starving citizens say it feels like the corrupt soldiers are taking food off their children’s plates.
"The military is getting fat while my grandchildren get skinny," said 74-year old Puerto Cabell resident. "All of Venezuela's food comes through here, but so little of it goes to us."
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins