CARACAS -- A decree by the embattled Nicolas Maduro administration ordering civil servants and private sector workers alike to work in the fields for two to four months at a time is raising eyebrows in Caracas. And that is saying a lot these days.
“The will of the worker has been annulled,” wrote analyst Angel Alayon in a post Wednesday.
This is the latest in a series of measures aimed at reducing food scarcity, this time through accelerated production of foodstuffs by increased manpower. The government of Maduro, which describes itself as socialist, already has vast control of the economy, including ownership of the company that provides the country with more than 90% of all its hard currency (state oil company PDVSA), price control and currency exchange controls.
It also nationalizes foreign and private owned companies regularly: just last week Maduro took control of the local subsidiary of U.S. paper-products maker Kimberly-Clark after it stopped production. Shortages have actually become more acute since they began in 2013, with analysts saying that price controls, the root cause of scarcity, are not being addressed properly.
The move to force people to work in the fields -- as was called for during the Allende term in Chile and is still in force in Cuba to this day -- has been denounced by labor and business owners alike. The text (see below) says it’s “mandatory” to assist the government in growing crops and other agricultural activities.
Froilan Barrios, a workers’ rights activist said that “actions such as this one represent a grave danger for everything we workers have won historically and culturally over the centuries. What little is left of the productive apparatus of the country is being completely dislocated and the Venezuelan economy loses its sense.”
The President of Fedecamaras, the country’s main guild of business owners, Francisco Martines, said the government was treating the workers as chattel and that, in growing crops, 60 days was not enough to see a result. Venezuela has typically a dry season of six months and a rainy season of similar length.
Venezuela has 3 million civil servants in a total population of about 30 million people and a severe shortage in key foodstuffs, some of which were, until very recently produced locally. Venezuela it April reported a high unemployment rate of more than 7%, but the government says it’s “the lowest in 20 years," according to Planning Minister Ricardo Menendez.
Menendez also said last week that there was no hunger in Venezuela, and that more than 90% of the population was getting three meals a day, a figure the opposition says is false, pointing to the long lines at grocery stores and the "humanitarian corridors" of hundreds of thousands seeking food and medicine in Brazil and Colombia