Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Maduro leans on military to combat food shortages

Published:Wednesday | July 13, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, speaks with his Defense Minister Gen Vladimir Padrino. Maduro on Monday, said he was creating a new government initiative to boost production and guarantee the smooth distribution of food supplies. He says that what is called the Great Mission of Sovereign Supplying will be headed Padrino, who will coordinate the work of every ministry.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP):

Venezuela's defence minister is getting a major promotion as the socialist-run country struggles to combat severe shortages and stave off food riots.

President Nicolas Maduro on Monday night said he was creating a new government initiative to boost production and guarantee the smooth distribution of food supplies in the face of what he called economic sabotage by his opponents. He said the Great Mission of Sovereign Supply will be headed by Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, who will coordinate the work of every ministry. Among its goals will be to wean oil-dependent Venezuela off foreign food imports and jump-start agricultural production that has suffered for years under price controls.

Maduro said he was acting under the authority of an economic emergency decree he declared earlier this year. As food shortages have worsened this year, Maduro has leaned more on the military and community groups of government supporters to organise food distribution and ease the blocks-long lines that are a focal point for spontaneous unrest and bouts of looting when hungry shoppers are turned away. He's also tried to tighten a rationing system that gives Venezuelans access to staples only on certain days.

But it's not clear if the strategy is working.

In June, there was an average of 24 protests each day according to a study published yesterday by local Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. About a third of those were sparked by severe food shortages.

Padrino, an army general and one of the few US-trained officers still occupying high positions in Venezuela's military, has long been one of Maduro's most-trusted aides. The deeply unpopular Maduro is battling to fend off a recall drive in the face of an economic crisis marked by triple-digit inflation and forced austerity by households and government agencies alike.

Maduro lacks the military background of his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, and since taking office in 2013, he has courted support from the military, greatly expanding their role running the oil-dependent economy. In addition to giving active and retired generals key Cabinet posts, he's awarded troops several inflation-beating pay raises, given the armed forces its own television network and created a military-run bank.