Municipal market workers in Caracas are blaming the Comites Locales de Abastecimiento y Produccion [Local Supply and Production Committees] (CLAP) for damaging their businesses and even forcing some of them into bankruptcy. The CLAP, a government-run system of food distribution that sees bags of food delivered directly to people’s homes, has been in effect since February of this year.
Vicente Carias, the head of the Asociacion de Trabajadores, Emprendedores y Microempresarios (ATRAEM) [Association of Workers, Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners] represents Caracas residents who own, operate or otherwise work small stands in the city’s markets. He says that the problem between the market workers and the CLAP stems from one fundamental issue: the government’s unwillingness to engage in any kind of dialogue with anyone. Carias said:
… [the government] only gives orders without any kind of exchange of opinions with the workers. For this and other reasons we’re raising the issue of self-determination so that we, who make a living there, can administer [ourselves] and push the markets forward.
Carias drew attention to the issue of military personnel being in charge of food distribution rather than the market workers themselves, a fact precipitated by the peculiar arrangement governing Venezuela today.
Back on July 12 of this year, Maduro placed Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez in charge of the Venezuelan government, essentially naming him “co-President”. The arrangement came as a result of Maduro’s attempt to tackle the economic crisis in Venezuela, and involved giving the military complete control of every aspect of food production and distribution.
For Carias, the fact that the military has complete control over market operations is unacceptable, since they often make work impossible. He said:
Many times, when new regulated products arrive the markets are shut down and they only sell these types of goods, which forces those of us who sell [non-regulated] goods to not work. These are events that are ordered by the military and can happen up to three times a week.
The CLAPS operate by siphoning regulated products destined for supermarkets or municipal markets like the ones Carias represents. Because the government has billed the CLAP system as a fundamental pillar of its plan to defeat the so-called “economic war”, their supply is guaranteed by the military. As a result, Carias points out that what amounts to the stealing of food and basic necessities from independent workers to feed the CLAP has been extremely harmful to business:
In the Guaicaipuro and Quinta Crespo [markets], just to name you a few, consumer traffic has decreased considerably. The food is hoarded by the CLAP and it doesn’t reach the people.
National Assembly Deputy Auristela Vazquez told El Nacional that the National Assembly’s Commission for Social Development is looking for ways to protect independent market workers from government and military intervention, as well as for opportunities to improve the quality of their work. Vasquez said:
We’ve looked [into this], and right now we’re conducting socioeconomic studies so that we can take this to the [National Assembly] for a first reading, keeping in mind that through the inspections that we’ve conducted we have witnessed the inhuman conditions under which the municipal markets operate. They’ve even been compared to prisons. It is vital that this be rectified.
Below, a YouTube video of a news report from July of this year inside a municipal market in Petare, Caracas, along with my translation:
Reporter: Military officials, alongside officials from the Superintendency of Fair Prices verify distribution and stock operations of food and basic necessities. They’ve taken control of a municipal market in Petare in the east of Caracas as part of the Mision Abastecimiento Soberano [the name of the government initiative that spawned CLAP]. This week, President Nicolas Maduro announced the measure as a new attempt at trying to stop the rising cost of food and basic necessities in Venezuela.
The military officials supervise the sale of corn flour and personal hygiene products at regulated prices.
William Contreras [Superintendent of Fair Prices]: We found that… the law is not followed here… they completely ignore the laws of the republic, as is for example the Law of Nutritional Security and Sovereignty, the Organic Fair Prices Law. They [encourage?] the sale of basic necessities to the people who live in this area.
Reporter: The Mision Abastecimiento Soberano is controlled directly from the Strategic Operational Command of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. It seeks to normalize the distribution and sale of food, which teh government argues is part of an economic war to put an end to the Bolivarian Revolution.
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