The Venezuelan military is selling food staples at up to 100 times the government-mandated costs in illegal marketplaces, according to an independent media investigation. The black markets are carried out at all levels of the military from foot soldiers on up to generals.
The higher food prices, exacerbated already by a currency crisis, have created a trafficking scheme that is more lucrative than drugs that keeps the provisions out of the hands of the country’s most needy populations.
“The military would be watching over whole bags of money,” Jose Campos, a grocer who was forced to make late night trips to the markets after his food supplies ran out. “They always had what I needed.”
The investigation included reviews of documents and interviews with more than 60 officials, workers and company owners. Five former generals were consulted, as well. The results painted a picture of corruption from the port of entry for imported goods to the markets where Venezuelans buy their meals.
Government officials have frequently refused to process incoming food unless they were paid kickbacks. Many appeared willing to let food sit and spoil. As many as 90% of Venezuelans have said they can’t pay for food.
Venezuela has seen lean times since its oil economy crashed in 2014. When oil prices dropped, the country could no longer afford to buy all of the provisions that it needed from other countries. The food import and supply chain had already been nationalized in 2004, which led to a neglected farming sector, but the oil crash led the government to put all of the remaining power into the hands of the military. The ensuing corruption has driven food prices up well beyond normal market prices.
The food crisis in the country has led to an increase in violent crime, as well. There were 28,479 violent deaths in 2016, according to the nonprofit Observatory of Venezuelan Violence. That figure ranks the country second in the world for violent crimes behind El Salvador and just ahead of Honduras.