ArticlePDF Available

Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in Venezuela



Venezuela has been experiencing a food crisis for almost a decade. Rampant undernourishment of the population, coupled with empty shelves in the market, is gaining international attention as a humanitarian emergency. However, the causes of the crisis remain divided into two major arguments posited by the government and the opposition in a “blame game”. Both factions have made serious contributions to the outbreak of the food crisis. Through analysis of various data sources, this study was able to identify five major causes of the food crisis: (1) dependence on oil, (2) poor political infrastructure, (3) political power over welfare, (4) hoarding and reselling of goods in the black market, and (5) U.S. sanctions in the Venezuelan economy.
Reports of an ongoing food crisis continue to plague the
air of Venezuela. Food crisis, as defined by the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015)
(FAO), exists when people do not have adequate physical,
social, or economic access to food. Moreover, it’s visible
when people are experiencing a sharp rise of hunger and
malnutrition (Timmer, 2009), which is currently exhibited
in Venezuela’s case. The majority of academic studies,
media reports, and articles have attributed the food cri-
sis to the Bolivarian Regime put in place by Hugo Chavez
and continued by Nicolas Maduro. This is because food
shortages occurred in the midst of Chavez’s administra-
tion and worsened during the term of Maduro. Despite
the evidence, the government has played an almost pas-
sive stance on the subject.
In 2017, El Pais reported research on the 2017 Survey
on Life Conditions of Venezuelans, which began in 2014,
conducted by researchers at the country’s three notable
academic institutions: Simon Bolivar University, Andres
Bello Catholic University, and the Central University of
Venezuela (Singer, 2018). In their research, they stated
that more than half of Venezuelans live below the poverty
line, some in extreme poverty. Furthermore, food insecu-
rity has affected 80% of Venezuelan families.
For many families, going shopping for basic staples in
the grocery feels as luxurious as it is to buy a car (Manetto,
2017). An 85% shortage of medicines has created an
unprecedented public health crisis. Adding salt to the
wound, most international aid agencies are prevented
from working inside the country, leaving Venezuelans to
fend for themselves (Human Rights Watch, 2019).
This article addresses the food crisis in Venezuela.1 In
order to uncover the causes of the food crisis in Venezuela,
we present several matters that contextualize the prob-
lem. These include an overview of the food crisis, an intro-
duction to the Bolivarian regime, the oil industry, and the
Bolivarian Social Funding Policies. A qualitative research
approach was used to identify the major cause of the
Venezuelan food crisis and to explain how these causes
led to the crisis. The researcher takes into account that
some Latin American news agencies are biased against
the government. However, they are used throughout this
study, as news agencies have firsthand accounts of the
development and timeline of the food crisis. To ensure
that both the government and the opposition are cov-
ered, articles and reports on sources defending each side
were carefully reviewed. The majority of the materials uti-
lized through this study are secondary, including research
papers, journal articles, and media reports. A few primary
sources are used, including an excerpt from a speech and
the Venezuelan constitution.
Introducing the Bolivarian Regime
Hugo Chavez was elected as the new president of
Venezuela in 1998. He kicked off his regime by proclaim-
ing his influential and mass-supported desire to overhaul
the Puntofijista, the neoliberal regime before him. The
Puntofijista system was criticized as highly oligopolistic in
nature as it primarily benefited the elite (Levine, 2002).
Elfenbein (2019) expounds this statement by conclud-
ing that the liberal structure of the state meant that the
government redirected the national budget from social
protection and economic development programs to debt
Pielago, B. S. (2020). Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis
in Venezuela.
, 3(1):4, 1–8. DOI:
Miriam College, PH
Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis
in Venezuela
Bea Sophia Pielago
Venezuela has been experiencing a food crisis for almost a decade. Rampant undernourishment of the
population, coupled with empty shelves in the market, is gaining international attention as a humanitar-
ian emergency. However, the causes of the crisis remain divided into two major arguments posited by
the government and the opposition in a “blame game”. Both factions have made serious contributions to
the outbreak of the food crisis. Through analysis of various data sources, this study was able to identify
ve major causes of the food crisis: (1) dependence on oil, (2) poor political infrastructure, (3) political
power over welfare, (4) hoarding and reselling of goods in the black market, and (5) U.S. sanctions in the
Venezuelan economy.
Keywords: Food Crisis; Venezuela; Bolivarian Regime
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in VenezuelaArt.4, page 2 of 8
payment. This meant that policies shifted and reduced
the state’s role in social protection, spurring weakened
organized labor, increased prices, and social and income
inequality (Ellner, 2008).
Chavez became the face of transformative hope in
Venezuela as he coined his new regime, “The Bolivarian
Revolution”. The term “Bolivarian Revolution” was inspired
by the revolutionary spirit of 19th-century Venezuelan
leader Simon Bolivar, who fought Spanish colonialism
(TRT World, 2019). With the Bolivarian Ideal in place,
Chavez brought forward policies that he believed were
needed to transform the society from a bottom-up pro-
cess (Azzellini, 2013). Misiones, which were heavily funded
by oil were the central policies in the Bolivarian regime.
Chavez’s vice president, Nicolas Maduro, took his place
after his death in March of 2012, and continued to expand
the misiones in pursuit of Chavez’s Bolivarian ideal.
The Powerhouse of the Bolivarian Regime:
Oil Industry
Venezuela possesses the largest oil reserves in the world
(OPEC, 2018; Richter, 2019), setting a foundation to its
economy. Venezuela is one of the founding members of the
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC),
and is a key player in the global oil market (OPEC, 2018).
According to the CIA World Factbook (2020), Venezuela
remains dependent on oil revenues, accounting for 98%
of export earnings and half of the government’s income.
This dependency on oil is reflected on the country’s 1999
constitution through the state-owned oil company:
Article 303: “For reasons of economic and political
sovereignty and national strategy, the State shall
retain all shares of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. or
the organ created to manage the petroleum indus-
try, with the exception of subsidiaries, strategic
joint ventures, business enterprises and any other
venture established or coming in the future to be
established as a consequence of the carrying on of
the business of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.
With a staggering amount of revenues amounting to
US$60 billion (Rodriguez et al., 2012) in 2011 alone, oil
has become the most influential and important asset in
the regimes of Chavez and Maduro. The oil industry has
been used for the establishment of the domestic agenda,
providing the country with the foreign exchange it needs
to support and manage the important consumer goods,
providing fuel to the Bolivarian Revolution (Nelson,
The Bolivarian Social Funding Policies
Venezuela’s national income increased during the oil
boom in the 2000s. The oil prices ranged from $10 a barrel
during 1999 to $133 per barrel in 2008 (Nelson, 2018).
The government of Venezuela seized this opportunity
to allocate their oil earnings to social programs and the
expansion of subsidies for food and energy. Chavez’s earli-
est socialist funding policy implementation was the mis-
iones or the “missions to save the people” (Penfold-Becerra,
2007). The misiones were crafted to serve the poor areas of
the country, alleviate existing socio-economic problems,
and encourage participation amongst communities.
Rajagopal (2017) stated that misiones consist of more
than thirty social programs, covering a wide variety of sub-
sidized aid. These ranged from literacy programs, provision
of access to education in rural and urban areas (Mision
Robinsons & Mision Ribas), free community health and
medical care (Mision Barrio Adentro), low-income hous-
ing construction, jobs, and opportunities through the
promotion of cooperatives (Mision Vuelvan Caracas), and
subsidizing food and other consumer goods for the poor-
est areas in the country (Mision Mercal).
The misiones are financed through opaque and non-
budgetary mechanisms. The president and his cabinet
manage a special fund that receives the oil revenues
directly from the state-owned oil enterprise, Petróleos
de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). This dependent relationship
signifies that any movement or change from the oil sec-
tor will affect the programs’ activities. The misiones have
become the cornerstone of Chavez’s popular support and
his campaign strategy for winning subsequent elections
at the regional and local levels in late 2004, as well as his
re-election as president in December 2006.
The misiones act was also surrounded by the following
major social funding policies.
Mercales Mision: The State-Subsidized Food Market
The establishment of state-subsidized food markets, or the
Mercales, is Chavez’s most important program promot-
ing food security (Clark, 2010). Also termed as “national
food”, this policy consisted of hundreds of cheap and
subsidized foods directly distributed to the poor through
the creation of discount stores throughout the country
(Penfold-Becerra, 2007). The Mission Mercal was passed
through a presidential decree and created under Article
305 of the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic
of Venezuela, ensuring that the people to have access to
basic food products at low prices (Embassy of Venezuela
to the U.S., 2009).
Chavez’s attempt to shift from neoliberalism was fur-
ther embodied when he formed bilateral agreements
with neighbors Brazil and Argentina. By 2006, almost
16,000 stores in Venezuela were selling subsidized food
at about 25%–40% cheaper than market prices. In this
agreement, Venezuela offered them oil and the former
two offered food in return. Mercal offers milk, tomato
sauce, bread, fish, fruit, meats, flours, seafood, bread,
cheese, cereal, eggs, pasta, coffee, margarine, sugar, oat-
meal, raisins, cooking oil, chicken, salt, and rice, all priced
between 25%–50% below traditional supermarket prices
(Wagner, 2005).2 The government was deeply commit-
ted to sustaining the Mercal market’s prices through
$24 million monthly subsidies from their own country’s
oil revenues. These subsidies also came in the form of
price controls imposed by Chavez’s government on the
imported goods. These price controls have generated
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in Venezuela Art.4, page 3 of 8
ongoing conflict with the private sector and is often
blamed for the ballooning rates of inflation in Venezuela
(Mars, 2016).
The “Agro-Food” Policy of Chavez: Reinventing
Agricultural Production
More than oil, Venezuela is also abundant in agricultural
resources, particularly cacao and coffee. Agrarian reform
was not a policy pursued by Chavez’s predecessors, despite
the country having agrarian roots. On the contrary, they
were more focused on maximizing agricultural outputs
rather than the conditions of the grassroots farmers. By
year 1998, small- and large-scale farms made up 75% of
the country’s landholders, but the majority of the farmers
only held 6% of the land, while 5% of landowners con-
trolled 75% (Delahaye, 2001). Chavez believed that this
system would not yield optimal results for production,
and a land reform must be instituted.
In 2001, Chavez implemented a 2001 Land Law, with
the aim to distribute underutilized rural land property
in favor of peasant or farmer-led drive (Purcell, 2017).
For Chavez, allowing the farmers to lead agricultural pro-
duction and distribution with no government oversight
would ensure that the land would be put into productive
use. He did not believe in letting the “invisible economic
hand” gain control. A non-believer and a constant critic of
free-market policies, Chavez constantly voiced his opposi-
tion to neoliberalism, especially in his speeches. This fur-
ther establishes his ideology and the reason behind his
Bolivarian policies, which is a stark shift from neoliberal-
ism. Among the most notable is his speech at the opening
of the 2004 XII G-15 Summit (Chavez, 2004):
This is the harsh and hard face of the work eco-
nomic order dominated by the Neoliberalism and
seen every year in the south, the death of over 11
million boys and girls below 5 years of age caused
by illnesses that are practically always preventable
and curable and who die at the appalling rate of
over 30 thousand every day, 21 every minute, 10
each 30 seconds… The great possibilities that a glo-
balization of solidarity and true cooperation could
bring to all people in the world through the sci-
entific-technical wonders has been reduced by the
neo-liberal model to this grotesque caricature full
of exploitation and social injustice.
Adhering to this mindset, Chavez assigned the Ministry
of Popular Power for Agriculture, the main coordinator
of the policies promoting food security, to offer services
such as credits, expertise, and agricultural inputs at
low costs to farmers. The government also worked with
Cuba, exchanging oil, once more, for Cuban expertise
(Wilpert, 2006). Since this land reform, the government
has distributed over a third of the land holdings, largely
benefitting 180,000 peasant farmers (Schiavoni &
Camacaro, 2009). However, during this process, around
200 farmers were assassinated by mercenaries hired by
local landowners who were bitter about the Land Act
(Clark, 2010).
The core of the Agro-Food policy is the Production
Enterprises or Empreses de Produccion Social (EPS) that
are led by farmers instead of private capital. An EPS is a
food processing facility that purchases goods from farm-
ers at a minimum price. Consequently, the final products
are distributed and sold through food processing facilities
that purchase produce from farmers at a fair minimum
price. The output products are sold relatively cheaper
through the government’s Mercal markets. However, it is
worth noting that the bureaucratic state members were
responsible for the creation of the EPS, thus also being
responsible for the implementation of its processes. This
meant that it veered away from the idea of being farmer
driven. Because the bureaucratic state members were
responsible for its creation, they also led the implementa-
tion of the processes of the enterprises, veering away from
being farmer driven.
For basic smaller entities than the EPS, another strategy
centered in the agricultural policy is the establishment of
the Unidades de Produccion Social (UPS). UPS operates as
a state marketing board that presents where farmers can
market their products at a regulated floor price (Purcell,
2017). The strategy’s intent is to provide consumers with
cheaper goods and market price stability.
The government also made ambitious investments in
the Agro-Food policy’s Plan Café. This policy aims to help
small and medium scale farmers sell their coffee prod-
ucts to the UPS. As previously stated, because of the floor
price under the UPS board, the final products are sold to
consumers for very low prices. It was set up by Chavez to
mitigate the decline in coffee production and encourage
new production.
Maduro’s social funding policies still dependent on oil
PDVSA is Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. PDVSA,
under Maduro’s regime, remained to be the finan-
cial engine of social spending for Venezuela. The
government also maintained close ties and relied on
deals with Russia and China as an exporter of cheap oil
and gas. During Maduro’s regime, his government main-
tained close ties and relied on deal with China, United
States, India, and Singapore as expected as an exporter
of cheap oil and gas.
However, as they continue to rely heavily on oil rev-
enues, global oil prices started dropping in 2014 (Cara
Labrador, 2019). The fall in oil prices resulted to sluggish
economy led by commodity price shocks, local currency
devaluation, and necessities in short supply, which cre-
ated serious unrest and unease among society (Mu & Hu,
Maduro’s CLAP Policy
To address the country’s economic crisis, doubling infla-
tion rates, and food shortages that resulted from the drop
in global oil prices, Maduro introduced another program
in 2016 called “CLAP” or the “Comité Local de Abastec-
imiento y Producción (Local Committee for Production
and Supply” (Jimenez, 2016). Jimenez further states in his
article that CLAP aims to strengthen the subsidized food
distribution system and provide direct house to house
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in VenezuelaArt.4, page 4 of 8
food distribution to communities based on the evaluate
Under this system, the government directly purchases
foods from both the public and the private suppliers and
arranges them in packages. Through the coordination
with community organizations, the mixed food pack-
ages are being distributed among individual households.
CLAP is delivered in medium-sized boxes composed of
imported basic food items – rice, flour, sugar, etc. – which
Venezuelan families are now dependent upon (Rendon,
2018). The role of CLAP boxes in contributing to the food
crisis is discussed in the appropriate section below.
Although not all social funding policies of Chavez and
Maduro’s regime were mentioned, the researcher chose
the most oil-reliant, globally recognized, and widely used
policies of Venezuelans (Rajagopal, 2017). The policies
and programs implemented displayed various enacted
measures to attain food security grounded by endogenous
development and participatory democracy – the two ten-
ets of the Bolivarian ideal. These policies have been real-
ized through state patronage, subsidies, price controls,
and oil trade-offs, as well as an increased social role. As
O’Brien (2016) acutely puts it, “Never has a country that
should have been so rich been so poor”.
The succeeding section will discuss how Chavez and
Maduro’s social policies, along with two other major
causes, led to the Venezuelan food crisis.
Causes of the Food Crisis
Food Crisis Cause #1: Dependency on Oil
The near-decade-long rise in oil prices allowed the
Bolivarian regime, specifically under Chavez, to increase
both spending and borrowing. Friesen (2018) stated that
with the global oil boom, Chavez continued to imple-
ment his social funding programs and subsidized almost
all goods and services for consumers to purchase at a
relatively low price. He also introduced nationalization of
more private industries to ensure price controls. However,
in the same article, Friesen adds that these actions sowed
the seeds for the future inflation crisis. Hugo Chavez, make
good on his pledge to harness the nation’s oil wealth to
fund welfare programs aimed at redressing inequality and
Chavez utilized the nation’s oil resource wealth to fund
social programs, notably the misiones, and address class
inequality. From subsidies for numerous projects on health,
food, housing, and agriculture, the government’s spend-
ing obligations were high. Then, the global price of oil
dropped. As the currency’s value fell, the cost of imported
goods rose (Morgenstern, & Polga–Hecimovich, 2019).
Chavez’s regime left no hope for an independent recovery
of the resource-rich nation, provided that Chavez’s social
policies and numerous price controls remain rampant even
in Maduro’s administration (Rajagopal, 2017).
Like many petrostates,3 Venezuela has struggled to
diversify its economy, leaving it vulnerable to boom-bust
cycles. Venezuela failed to diversify their economy, relying
only on oil production to fund its policies and keep the
economy moving (Sabga, 2019). This has left Venezuela
vulnerable to boom-bust cycles of oil prices.
Food Crisis Cause #2: Poor Political Infrastructure
The second cause of the food crisis in Venezuela is the
poor policy infrastructure, particularly for the Land Act
and the Agro-Food policy. When the Land Act was imple-
mented in 2001 as an important component of the
Agro-Food policy, Chavez hoped that distributing land
amongst farmers would result in maximum production of
agricultural goods at a lower cost. However, Chavez did not
anticipate that the immediate distribution of land would
cause a conflict between landowners and peasant farmers.
This conflict eventually led to the death of 200 farmers.
Previous landowners hired mercenaries to assassinate the
peasant farmers after seeing the act as a sudden attack
against private property. In regards to the land redistribu-
tion process, Greg Wilpert (2006), founder of a Venezuelan
news agency, argued that “…problems with the legal frame-
work, general insecurity, and impunity, weak peasant
organization, poor infrastructure and support, and eco-
nomic problems” have prevented progress.
In addition to the weak process of implementation of
the Land Act, there has been difficulty in depopulating
the urban areas to replace the farmers in the rural areas.
This is because a majority of Venezuelans fled to the urban
centers where they could easily get a hold of cheaper
and subsidized goods, as well as acquire employment. In
fact, Lavelle (2014), stated that oil-producing regions in
Venezuela experience higher local wages, further eroding
agriculture profitability. Because of the diminished pro-
ductive capacity, a shortage of agricultural goods in the
market took place.
Chavez was also in pursuit of the Agro-Food policy
that sought to offer generous amounts of credits from
oil revenues to smallholder farmers to start cooperatives
(Pineiro-Harnecker, 2005). With this Agro-Food policy,
Chavez sought to revive the agricultural sector and offer
incentives for farmers. Further, he aimed to sell agricul-
tural goods at a lower cost in his mercals. As a result, there
has been an exponential rise in the number of coopera-
tives, from 877 in 1998 to 69,231 in 2006 (SISOV, 2010).
Regardless, a year later, it was discovered that many, if
not the majority, of these cooperatives were actually small
businesses disguised as such, in order to milk their govern-
ment’s assistance. Because of this, many of the coopera-
tives did not become economically viable and sustainable
(Lavelle, 2014). Isaacs et al. (2009) argue that cooperatives
failed due to lack of peasant and farmer training and a
more efficient system that monitors the cooperatives
being started. Ultimately, the fall of the agricultural sector
could be attributed to the government’s weak oversight
and their mere offers of generous credit to poorly trained
and inexperienced farmers. The collapse of these coop-
eratives resulted to a loss of tens or hundreds of millions
of dollars, accompanied by market shortages (Pineiro-
Harnecker, 2009).
Food Crisis Cause #3 Political Power over Welfare –
Carnet de la Patria Policy and CLAP Policy
The third cause of the food crisis in Venezuela is the
political use of welfare. Despite Maduro’s proposed prem-
ise that Carnet del la Patria and the CLAP policy would
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in Venezuela Art.4, page 5 of 8
alleviate scarcity and starvation, many news and academic
articles have condemned these policies as weaponizing
hunger and prioritizing a political agenda of power main-
tenance. Researchers and news writers have labeled ID
cards as government surveillance (Ragas, 2017). Because
CLAP boxes are only given to people who vote for the gov-
ernment through their ID cards, it becomes an ultimatum
that restricts their liberty to vote in place of receiving food.
Since majority of the goods in the CLAP boxes are from
neighboring countries, this exacerbates the country’s
dependence on industrialized foods, instead of focusing
on a strategic and transformative food policies. In fact,
CLAP deliveries have even become avenues for corruption.
Findings and investigations have suggested that those
overseeing the program are making profits by increasing
the price of the CLAP boxes sold. What was once a $12
CLAP box would become $35, a change made by the facili-
tators of the programs themselves (Aponte & Martinez,
2018; Rendon, 2017).
Although it was Maduro’s objective to reduce the
country’s dependence on foreign food, this hasn’t been
actualized through the existence of CLAP. In reality, 90%
of products inside the box were goods imported from
Mexico and neighboring Colombia. In the same way, this
also raises the concern on health, because there have been
assertions that the distributed food often fails the basic
health quality standards, which involves spoilage and
unsanitary conditions (Rendon, 2018).
The Economic War: Added Pressure from Internal and
External Opposition
The fourth and fifth causes of the food crisis stem from
the economic war between Venezuela and the opposition.
As with any radical shift from neo-liberalism, the Bolivar-
ian Regime of Chavez and Maduro was bound to receive
criticism against internal and external liberal opposi-
tion. The private entities benefiting from the puntojista
regime responded negatively to the social funding policies
of Chavez and even Maduro. The pro-government groups
argue that the food crisis can be explained in terms of the
social and economic dynamics that come to play outside
government policies.
This argument is coined as the “economic war”. It holds
that business sectors friendly to the opposition are wag-
ing an aggressive and protracted campaign of economic
sabotage to deliberately stir up social unrest to destabi-
lize and discredit the governing Chavista regimes (Bolton,
2016). In her book, “The Visible Hand” (2017), Pasqualina
Curcio-Curcio explains that the shortages were not to be
blamed entirely on the government but were manufac-
tured by the private sector too. As much as the opposition
denies this case, evidence still exists that while they are
not wholly to blame, the opposition has had a hand in
aggravating the food crisis.
The Oil Lock-Out
One of the earliest displays of the opposition against
the Bolivarian regime was the violent oil lock-out strike
in 2002. Workers at PDVSA rallied to force a new presi-
dential election to get rid of Chavez. To enhance their
collective force, PDVSA stopped its oil production for
two months, which caused an almost $14 billion loss in
oil revenue. (Kozloff, 2006). Furthermore, the oil lockout
resulted to the Chavez administration’s reduced capac-
ity to push for their social programs or misiones, as these
were heavily funded by oil revenues. This also caused a
scarcity outbreak in regards with the delivery of goods,
especially food, which were left to rot unattended in ware-
houses. Because petroleum wasn’t available, transporta-
tion of goods from the production centers to the shops
or markets were halted. In the aftermath of the strike, the
government fired 18,000 PDVSA employees, 40% of the
company’s workforce, for “dereliction of duty” during the
strike. The oil lockout strike collapsed in February 2003,
and Chavez remained seated as president. This event is
considered as one of major catalysts of the Chavez opposi-
tion (Vera, 2014).
Food Crisis Cause #4 Hoarding and Re-selling of
Goods in the Black Market
The Bolivarian government’s price controls for goods and
services has wounded the profit gains of producers. This
has created a disincentive for the private industry to 1)
invest in production and 2) produce goods. Underproduc-
tion became a phenomenon in Venezuela until little to no
food was left. Instead of selling their products in mercal
stores, many producers hoard their products and resort
to selling them in the black market where prices are con-
trolled by the producers (Kaplan, 2016). Francisco Luzon,
a Venezuelan working class, said in an interview with Al
Jazeera (Arsenault, 2014):
There is some truth about the economic war from
private entities, as they want to increase profits.
Distributors buy large quantities of products here
and sell them in Colombia. Selling contraband is
a serious problem. People here are taking large
quantities of products meant for Venezuelans and
selling them in Colombia.
The disproportionate prices in the Venezuelan market due
to strong state and exchange-rate issues has enticed black-
marketers and hoarders to smuggle them across neighbor-
ing borders, particularly Colombia. While black markets
were artificially made to raise exchange rates and promote
capital flights to reduce production (Nakatani & Herrera,
2008), producers now rely on black markets to receive dol-
lars. However, what the Bolivarian government refers to as
hoarding, speculation, and sabotage is referred to simply
as disinvestment by liberal economic analysts. According
to the liberal economic analysts, the producers who hoard
are simply rational actors responding to the opportunities
for arbitrage offered by the isolated application of price
controls (Levingston, 2014).
Food Crisis Cause #5: U.S. Sanctions and Their Impact
on the Venezuelan Economy
The fifth cause of the food crisis in Venezuela is U.S.
imposed sanctions. Among Venezuela’s major challenges
is its tension with the United States, a well-known cham-
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in VenezuelaArt.4, page 6 of 8
pion of neoliberalism and democracy. Ever since Chavez’s
administration, the U.S. has been determined for a regime
change in Venezuela. Qg: Divya Malhotra from the Centre
of Air Power Studies (2017) foresaw that the U.S. would
soon use the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela as proof of
the failure of Venezuela’s socialist regime. The paper stated
that given that the West has labelled the current situation
in Venezuela a “humanitarian disaster,” further sanctions
would reduce the petro-dollars coming into the country.
Given that the U.S. is one of Venezuela’s major importers,
this has negatively affected the implementation of social
programs because of inadequate funds to support such ini-
In August 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump’s admin-
istration levied financial sanctions on the Venezuelan
government and the state-owned oil and gas company,
PDVSA, limiting their access to U.S. financial markets and
their ability to remit or even service outstanding debt obli-
gations (O’Neil, 2018). The sanctions were one of Trump’s
bids to pressure Maduro out of presidency (Eaton, 2019;
Macias & Imbert, 2020).
In addition, President Trump announced a full embargo
against the Venezuelan government, blocking all transac-
tions with some exceptions for humanitarian aid (Rendon,
2019). Because oil is the sole driving force of the economy,
imposing sanctions on PDVSA drove down the country’s
economy further, exacerbating the crisis.
Venezuelans, even those who supported the govern-
ment opposition have expressed their dislike for the U.S.
sanctions as these terribly affect the government’s abil-
ity to earn oil revenues that could import food. These
actions could cause further hardship for Venezuelans if
the regime does not fall quickly (which has been the expe-
rience with other sanctioned regimes), resulting in more
refugees (O’Neil, 2018).
Venezuela continues to suffer a food crisis and the “blame
war” between the government and the opposition helps
no one. While a majority of the media, journal articles, and
reports attribute the crisis to the supposed failure of the
Venezuelan government under Chavez and Maduro, this
article sought out and studied both sides of the debate to
uncover the truth.
This article tackles the five major causes of the food
crisis while taking into account the faults of both the
Chavez and Maduro administration, as well as external
and internal opposition. The first major cause of the food
crisis is the administration’s dependence on oil, a volatile
resource, to support its social programs and policies. As
soon as revenues from oil dried out, there was no more
fuel to keep the programs running.
The second cause is poor political infrastructure over
Venezuela’s agricultural policies. Distributing land and
loans for farmer cooperatives who were poorly trained
and inexperienced led to a loss of a million dollars and the
fall of the agricultural industry, creating market shortages
(Piñeiro Harnecker, 2009). Prioritizing political power over
welfare is the third cause of the food crisis. Majority of the
goods in the CLAP boxes are from neighboring countries,
exacerbating the country’s dependence on industrialized
foods, instead of focusing on a strategic and transforma-
tive food policies. In addition to that, CLAP boxes have
also become avenues to corruption.
The fourth and fifth major causes of the Venezuelan
food crisis relate to the economic war. Activities of exter-
nal and internal opposition contributed largely to the
food crisis. The hoarding and re-selling of goods in the
black market (fourth cause) by the opposition to make a
profit led to food shortages in the mercals. Private indus-
tries despised the nationalization of companies, feeling
as it is an attack on private property. This was followed
by price controls, wherein producers lost the incentive to
produce due to poor profit earnings. The fifth and final
major cause of the food crisis is the U.S. sanctions. A major
player in the economy and a key exporter of Venezuela’s
oil, the U.S. sanctions largely affected the food crisis.
U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil has inspired countries
like Canada and the EU to do the same (Sabga, 2019). In
addition, Al Jazeera (2019) reported Bachelet stating that
sanctions will worsen the crisis in Venezuela given that
most of the earnings derive from a large share of U.S.
exports, directly affecting Venezuela’s purchasing power
of imported goods.
The main objective of this article was to discuss the
causes of the food crisis in Venezuela. Solutions to this
food crisis were not the focus of this article. Other papers
could fill the gap by exploring recommendations to
resolve the food crisis. Some possible solutions include (1)
cooperation between the pro-government and the anti-
government forces; (2) reforms in the Maduro govern-
ment; (3) toppling the Maduro government; or (4) support
of international organizations to provide humanitarian
and other assistance.
1 This article is based on the author’s undergraduate
thesis submitted in 2019 entitled: Venezuela’s Food
Crisis: An Analysis of Chavez and Maduro’s Bolivarian
Social Funding Policies and Their Implications on Food
2 A news website from Venezuela that was founded by
Gregory Wilpert.
States that are known to be dependent on oil
Competing Interests
The author has no competing interests to declare.
Al Jazeera. (2019, August 8). US sanctions on Venezuela
could exacerbate crisis, UN warns. Al Jazeera. https://
Aponte, A., & Martinez, A. I. (2018, March 12). For poor
Venezuelans, a box of food may sway vote for Maduro.
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in Venezuela Art.4, page 7 of 8
Arsenault, C. (2014, March 2). Is hoarding causing Ven-
ezuela food shortages? Al Jazeera. https://aljazeera.
com/indepth/fea tures/2014/03/hoarding-causing-
Azzellini, D. (2013). The communal state: Communal
councils, communes, and workplace democracy
NACLA Report on the Americas, 46(2), 25–30. DOI:
Bolton, P. (2016, March 24). The other explanation for
Venezuela’s economic crisis. Council on Hemispheric
Cara Labrador, R. (2019, January 24). Venezuela: The rise
and fall of a petrostate. Council on Foreign Relations.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2020). South America:
Venezuela, The world factbook. https://www.cia.
Chavez, H. (2004, March 1). Speech by President
Hugo Chavez, at the open ing of XII G-15 summit.
Clark, P. (2010). Sowing the oil? The Chavez government’s
policy framework for an alternative food system in
Venezuela. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations,
33(1), 135–165.
Curcio, P. C. (2017). The visible hand of the market: Eco-
nomic war in Venezuela.
Delahaye, O. (2001). Políticas de tierras de Venezuela en el
siglo XX. Fondo Editorial Tropykos.
Eaton, C. (2019, May 3). Explainer: U.S. sanctions and Ven-
ezuela’s exports and imports. Reuters. https://www.
Elfenbein, R. (2019). Engendering revolution: Women,
unpaid labor, and maternalism in Bolivarian
Venezuela. University of Texas Press.
Ellner, S. (2008). Latin America at the crossroads:
Domination, crisis, popular movements, and
political alternatives. Hispanic American His-
torical Review, 88(2), 291–292. DOI: https://doi.
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to
the United States. (2009). Fact sheet: Social mission
in Venezuela.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations. (2015). The state of food insecurity in the
Friesen,G. (2018, August 7). The path to hyperinflation:
What happened to Venezuela? Forbes.https://
Human Rights Watch. (2019, January 17). World report
2019: Rights trends in Venezuela. https://www.
Isaacs, A., Weiner, B., Bell, G., Frantz, C., & Bowen,
K. (2009, November 26). The food sovereignty
movement in Venezuela, Part 1. Venezuelanalysis.
Jimenez, A. (2016, November 15). Are the CLAPs an
effective measure to combat shortages in Ven-
ezuela? Venezuelanalysis. https://venezuelanalysis.
Kaplan, E. (2016, March 31). Meet the smugglers of the
Venezuela-Colombia border. Time. https://time.
Kozloff, N. (2006). Hugo Chávez: Oil, politics and the
challenge to the U.S. Palgrave Macmillan.
Lavelle, D. (2014). A twenty-first century socialist agri-
culture? Land reform, food sovereignty and peasant-
state dynamics in Venezuela. International Journal
of Sociology of Agriculture & Food, 21(1), 133–154.
Levine, D. (2002). The decline and fall of democracy
in Venezuela: Ten theses. Bulletin of Latin Ameri-
can Research, 21(2), 248–269. DOI: https://doi.
Levingston, O. (2014, February 10). Venezuela: The politi-
cal economy of inflation and investment strikes.
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
Retrieved from
Macias, A., & Imbert, F. (2020, January 21). Trump
administration increases pressure on Maduro
regime with new sanctions. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.
Malhotra, S. (2017). US oil sanctions against Vene zuela:
Possible effects. CAPS in Focus, 70/17. http://capsin-
Manetto, F. (2017, April 24). The daily battle for
survival in Venezuela. El País. https://eng-
Mars, A. (2016, April 13). IMF sees inflation in Ven-
ezuela soaring to 2,200% by 2017. El País.
Morgenstern, S., & Polga–Hecimovich, J. (2019,
February 8). Why Venezuela’s oil money could
keep undermining its economy and democracy. The
Mu, X., & Hu, G. (2018). Analysis of Venezuela’s oil-
oriented economy: From the perspective of
entropy. Petroleum Science, 15(1), 200–209. DOI:
Nakatani, P., & Herrera, R. (2008). Structural
changes and planning of the economy in revo-
lutionary Venezuela. Review of Radical Politi-
cal Economics, 40(3), 292–299. DOI: https://doi.
Pielago: Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in VenezuelaArt.4, page 8 of 8
Nelson, R. (2018 January 10). Venezuela’s Economic
Crisis: Issues for Congress. Congres sional Research
O’Brien, M. (2016, May 19). Venezuela: the country
that should have been so rich but ended up this
poor. Independent. https://www.independent.
O’Neil, S. K. (2018, February 15). A Venezuelan refugee
crisis. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.
OPEC. (2018). OPEC share of world crude oil reserves.
Penfold-Becerra, M. (2007). Clientelism and social funds:
Evidence from Chávez’s Misiones. Latin American
Politics and Society, 49(4), 63–84.
Piñeiro Harnecker, C. (2005, December 05). The new
cooperative movement in Venezuela’s Bolivarian
process. Monthly Review Zine. https://mronline.
Piñeiro Harnecker, C. (2009). Main challenges for cooper-
atives in Venezuela. Critical Sociology, 35, 841–862.
Purcell, T. (2017). The political economy of rentier
capitalism and the limits to agrarian transforma-
tion in Venezuela. Journal of Agrarian Change, 17,
296–312. DOI:
Ragas, J. (2017). A starving revolution: ID cards and food
rationing in Bolivarian Venezuela. Surveillance
and Society, 15(3/4), 590–595. DOI: https://doi.
Rajagopal, D. (2017, February 09). The legacy of Hugo
Chavez and a failing Venezuela. Wharton Public Pol-
icy Initiative. https://publicpol icy.wharton.upenn.
Rendon, M. (2017, December 14). What’s next for Ven-
ezuela? CSIS Briefs.
Rendon, M. (2018). The Maduro diet: Food v. Freedom
in Venezuela. CSIS Briefs.
Rendon, M. (2019, September 3). Are sanctions working
in Venezuela? CSIS Briefs.
Richter, F. (2019, September 16). Venezuela sits atop the
world’s largest oil reserves. Statista Infographic News-
Rodriguez, P. L., Morales, J. R., & Monaldi Marturet, F.
(2012). Direct distribution of oil revenues in Vene-
zuela: A viable alternative? SSRN Electronic Journal.
Sabga, P. (2019, February 1). What brought Venezuela’s
economy to ruin? Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.
Schiavoni, C., & Camacaro, W. (2009). The Venezue-
lan effort to build a new food and agriculture sys-
tem. Monthly Review, 61(3), 129. DOI: https://doi.
Singer, F. (2018, February 23). Venezuelans going to
bed hungry as food crisis deepens. El País. https://
Sistema Integrada de Indicadores Sociales de
Venezuela [SISOV]. (2010). “Logros.” Retrieved
March 30, 2010.
Timmer, C. P. (2009). Preventing food crises using a
food policy approach. The Journal of Nutrition,
140(1), 224S–228S. DOI:
TRT World. (2019, January 24). What is Venezuela’s
Bolivarian revolution?
ameri cas/what-is-venezuela-s-bolivarian-revolu-
Vera, L. (2014). Venezuela 1999–2014: Macro-Policy, oil,
governance and economic performance. Compara-
tive Economic Studies, 57, 539–568. DOI: https://
Wagner, S. (2005, June 24). Mercal: Reducing poverty and
creating national food sovereignty in Venezuela.
Wilpert, G. (2006) Land for people not for profit in Ven-
ezuela, In P. Rosset, R. Patel, and M. Courville (Eds.),
Promised land (pp. 249–264). Food First Books.
How to cite this article: Pielago, B. S. (2020). Uncovering the 5 Major Causes of the Food Crisis in Venezuela.
, 3(1): 4,
1–8. DOI:
Published: 24 June 2020
Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original author and source are credited. See
is a peer-reviewed open access journal published by Ubiquity Press. OPEN ACCESS
... Yet the boxes were only given to those who voted for the government and had a government ID, coercing political participation in exchange for food. Farmers within the state of Venezuela were not prioritized: 90% of the box contents were imported from neighboring countries' agribusiness farms (Pielago 2020). ...
Full-text available
This article applies an anarchist lens to the food sovereignty movement. It analyzes food regimes as capitalist agriculture regimes which rely on the State’s monopoly on hunger, wherein the State relies on the dispossession of people from their land and food systems, the protection of property, and the primacy of capital. The interdependence of this State-capital-property trinity is violently enforced, and manufactures compliance through counterinsurgent strategies of social war. The State monopoly on hunger justifies a new offshoot of the larger food sovereignty movement, a prefigurative praxis which dismantles all food regimes to build new counter-worlds: food anarchy.
... En este sentido, se puede constatar que esta ley no comprende conceptos, prácticas o metodologías referentes al mantenimiento del BA durante el transporte previo a la matanza y tampoco existen proyectos o propuestas de normas, leyes, decretos o reglamentos que indiquen un interés tangible de cambio. Lo anterior se puede atribuir a la inestabilidad política, obstáculos para consolidar su marco legal, la inseguridad y la crisis alimentaria, de salud y económica por la que está atravesando este país Page et al., 2019;Pielago, 2020). Por lo anterior, no resulta extraño que la legislación del BA durante la movilización del búfalo de agua no figure entre las prioridades de la mayoría de los ciudadanos y el gobierno de Venezuela, a pesar de que este país es el segundo mayor productor de búfalos de agua en América (Nava-Trujillo et al., 2020). ...
Full-text available
In this essay, I examine the controversy around the “Carnet de la Patria,” a national identity card issued in Venezuela in December 2016. I argue that this ID card belongs to a larger project of surveillance and regulation of identity developed by the Bolivarian Revolution and implemented by the late Hugo Chavez and continued by current president Nicolas Maduro. Amid its worst economic crisis, the government claims that the new ID card will allow citizens a better access to goods from supermarkets, replacing the fingerprint system (“captahuella”) that provoked massive protests in 2014. Opponents to this document have highlighted the parallel with the cards that exist in Cuba (“ration books”), and the manipulation of the database system to benefit only those who support the government and are already registered in previous official databases. The Venezuelan case provides an intriguing scenario that defies the regional region addressed to provide personal cards to undocumented groups. It also provides valuable comparative lessons about the re-emergence of surveillance technology and identity cards in modern authoritarian regimes.
Full-text available
This article examines state–peasantry dynamics in Venezuela in regards to the formation, implementation and contestation of land reform and agricultural policy. As a self-proclaimed socialist state, the Chávez Government has framed its agrarian policies as a reordering of the food system that prioritizes land redistrbution, smallholder agriculture, and sustainable forms of production. Yet, despite an apparently positive policy context, rural dynamics have been characterized by conflict over land and a geographically and temporally uneven process of policy implementation in rural areas. This article examines how peasants have engaged with Venezuela’s land re- form processes and their role in shaping the character and scope of state policy. In particular, it investigates the dynamics of technically illegal peasant occupation of estates in a seemingly ‘pro-peasant’ policy context. Peasant–state dynamics are analyzed through the lens of food sovereignty, where land reform processes and struggles represent contestation over conceptions of what constitutes ‘appropriate’ production in a ‘socialist’ agricultural regime.
Full-text available
To investigate the efficiency and stability of Venezuela’s oil-oriented economy, this paper applied entropy to the analysis. Based on this method, Venezuela’s oil-centered industry, inefficient regulatory system, and insensitive response to external changes are recognized as an increase in the country’s entropy. According to these facts, a dissipative structure model is constructed to analyze the efficiency and stability of the Venezuela’s economic system. The results show that financial assistants (fund flow), policy reform (policy flow), and advanced technology (technology flow) can perform as negative entropy inflows (NEIFs). These NEIFs will promote a series of influence and feedback reactions, which will contribute to recovering Venezuela’s system efficiency and stability.
Full-text available
This paper explores the contradictions and limits to agrarian transformation under 21st-century socialism in Venezuela. Given the historical destruction wrought by the oil-based accumulation process upon Venezuela's agricultural sector, the symbolic and social importance of an “agrarian revolution” could be seen as a yardstick with which to measure the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution in “sowing the oil”. Eschewing a policy focus on the role of “food sovereignty” and “food security”, the paper analyses how the dynamics of rentier-capital accumulation have played out in the agricultural sector. The paper argues that the macroeconomic framework of the Bolivarian Revolution has diminished the possibility of expanded domestic food production and instead reduced agrarian transformation to contradictory processes of ground rent appropriation.
Full-text available
During the administration of President Chavez, Venezuela registered some celebrated and encouraging socio-economic achievements, however; in the macroeconomic realm the country underperformed compared with other countries in Latin America of a similar size. The country, for instance, did not manage to avoid recurrent external crisis, suffered from unprecedented net transfers of financial resources abroad and, despite the oil windfall, has not accumulated a strong level of defensive international reserves. Moreover, inflation has been rampant and output growth has been very volatile and, on average, poor. This study provides a descriptive account and analysis of Venezuela’s macroeconomic performance and policy experience during the administration of President Chavez and his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro (1999–2014). It focuses on the major policy and institutional changes, and on the problems and imbalances of the economy to find out and explore the conundrum of Venezuela’s economic underachievement. We evaluate Venezuela’s exchange rate and monetary policy and the key commitments of the Central Bank to society. In general the study suggests that macroeconomic mismanagement and a failed institutional structure of governance are essential to understand some key imbalances. It seems to be the case that the root cause of this macroeconomic mismanagement and poor governance of Venezuela lies in prevailing political and economic incentives.
Full-text available
In April 2008, as people around the world took to the streets to protest the global food crisis and the lack of political will to address it, a crowd of a different nature gathered in Venezuela. Afro-Venezuelan cacao farmers and artisanal fishermen of the coastal community of Chuao came together to witness their president pledge that the food crisis would not hinder Venezuela's advancements in food and agriculture. "There is a food crisis in the world, but Venezuela is not going to fall into that crisis," said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías. "You can be sure of that. Actually, we are going to help other nations who are facing this crisis."1 He then went on to describe Venezuela's most recent developments in food and agriculture, as well as the work that still lay ahead. This was one of several weekly addresses that Chávez had dedicated to food and agriculture as the world food crisis unfolded. This article can also be found at the Monthly Review website, where most recent articles are published in full. Click here to purchase a PDF version of this article at the Monthly Review website.
Full-text available
Since 1999, the Venezuelan government led by President Hugo Chavez has implemented variety of policies to foster an alternative agro-food system aimed at improving food security and bolstering Venezuela's food sovereignty, using the country's oil revenues to fund the reforms. This paper provides a broad overview of the Chavez government's efforts to transform the food system in Venezuela during its tenure. It examines the government's strategies to promote food sovereignty and policies aimed at improving food security; the state-fostered social economy enterprises and their role in fostering alternative relations of production and consumption, and a case study of the government's Plan Café to assist small-scale coffee producers. Although there are many challenges, the Venezuelan government's food and agricultural policies stand out as a unique attempt by a government to foster alternative models for the production, distribution and consumption of food and to express the principles of food sovereignty in a policy framework.