The Cable

Dire Measures to Combat Hunger in Venezuela

Prominent priest calls on Venezuelans to label trash that contains food for the hungry.


Venezuela has been teetering on the brink of political meltdown and economic collapse for months. Food shortages have now grown so severe that religious leaders are urging people to label their tossed out food for those scavenging to fill their empty stomachs.

A prominent priest and vocal opponent to President Nicolas Maduro’s regime urged followers to label their trash so the hungry can forage “with dignity.”

“Try to preserve food waste so that people who eat out of garbage cans can praise the Lord,” Father Jose Palmar wrote in a social media post, as Panam Post reported. He urged citizens to separate food from other trash for the needy as a way to celebrate Lent, a Catholic religious observance that began Wednesday.

Palmar’s call underscores just how desperate some in the country have become. Three quarters of the country’s population lost an average of over 18 pounds over food shortages in 2016, according to a survey by Venezuelan universities and nonprofit groups. Last year, over 80 percent of foodstuffs disappeared from shelves and many had to get by with one meal a day, Foreign Policy reported.

Venezuela was once South America’s most powerful petrostate. But decades of government mismanagement sent the country into decline. Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez choked the economy with heavy-handed regulations, price controls, and a campaign to nationalize major industries that chased out foreign investments.

Then Venezuela got slammed with falling oil prices after Maduro took over. The country is heavily reliant on oil revenue to bankroll government services, but it’s become so cash-strapped it’s now even struggling to export oil.

Maduro’s clumsy power grabs amid the economic meltdown fueled a new political crisis late last year, as he maneuvered to kneecap the opposition and strip the National Assembly’s authority despite widespread backlash and protests.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration slapped new sanctions on members of Maduro’s regime in February, including Vice President Tareck El Aissami over his alleged involvement in drug trafficking rings. The move signaled the new U.S. administration would take a tougher line on the andean country.

Photo credit: John Moore/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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