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122,000 lost tons

The spoiled food could have been used to feed 17 million people a month. Businessmen at Puerto Cabello had warned against an excess of Pdval imports. Why they were not listened to?

Packages of beans labeled “Socialist Venezuela,” were found in a dumping site (Handout photo: Yunior Lugo)

At least half Venezuelans could have eaten for one month with the rotten food that was found over the past few weeks. Excluding the packages of beans or mayonnaise found in the dumping site of Tiguadara, western Falcón state, recent complaints total almost 122,000 tons of food that was lost before arriving in the country's fridges and shelves.

"All this could have been the monthly shopping of more than three million Venezuelan families," ex deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia reckoned. If each container makes room for 28,000 kilograms and an average individual consumes seven kilograms a month, the account of the leader of opposition Proyecto Venezuela party shows that -throughout 30 days- 17 million people could have been fed with the containers and sacks of products that were found stockpiled in several places in the states of Carabobo, Cojedes, Yaracuy and Zulia.

The government lost hold of the situation, at least, as declared by Virginia Mares, the president of Pdval, a food distributor run by state-owned oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). "We were swamped with containers, because all of them arrived at the same time," she said on June 9. "We imported 761,000 tons of food, which even had to get at other ports in the meantime, as the port of Puerto Cabello flowed."

The queues at maritime customs stopped being a secret long time ago. Nonetheless, Pdval imported above its capacity. Eight months ago, the Puerto Cabello Chamber of Commerce warned against exceeding government imports.

"The fact that they are buying much more than what we can distribute is worrisome," Santos Rivas, the Chamber president, said in a communiqué last September 28. "Despite the great efforts made by the logistic staff of Casa Corporation and Pdval, they cannot attain the distribution goals to clear the primary zones if they are used as warehouses," he added.

Rivas also reported on the situation to the authorized officials. "I called upon Pdval purchase staff to agree with the distribution department and make the requests based on their distribution capacity."

The corollary of the story is well known. What started as an investigation of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service into missing commodities in Puerto Cabello docks ended uncovering the stink of several containers. In this way, a scandal began and has not ceased to show "rotten," "spoiled," or "expired" food all over the country.

At Friday, June 18, the claims accounted for a total of 121,920 tons of lost products. However, the Press Office of the Attorney General Office did not specify if their investigation had included the new cases. It is only known that, according to the remarks made by Attorney General Luisa Ortega last June 10, "officially, 1,074 containers have been found in Puerto Cabello and additional 1,260 in the town of Tinaquillo" (central Carabobo state).

However, the Puerto Cabello Chamber of Commerce noted that most of the spoiled food was already nationalized and out of the customs. "The ports had nothing to do with it; they could not distribute the food and for this reason, we, at Fedecámaras (Federation of Trade and Industry Chambers), have said that we do not let our food get rotten," Rivas commented.

In the opinion of Berrizbeitia, the case "is an example of how the country is being governed." He wondered about the management capacity in distribution and audit of Pdval processes. But beyond any political considerations, he warned that the amount of almost 122,000 tons of lost food has caused shortage. Therefore, there will be an inflationary effect on the very goods that turned out to be spoiled, namely: milk, rice, sugar, oil and flour, among others.

Returned "humanitarian aid"
A portion of the spoiled food arrived in Haiti as humanitarian aid. It was made known after the customs authorities at the Dominican Republic returned the Santa Paula, carrying at least 40 containers filled with expired goods. The news travelled around the world. Three days later, the Venezuelan Ministry of Food reacted with a press release. It was Venezuela, they reasserted, which "requested the return of the containers to prevent the food from expiring," upon an assessment of "existing conditions in Haiti."

Another irregular event happened on November 6, 2007 in relation to a shipment imported by the Ministry of Food. A ship loaded with 1,750 heads of cattle from Brazil capsized on Puerto Cabello coasts. It was anchored, waiting for an available dock. Suddenly the animals started to move in such a way that the vessel wrecked.

Stored drugs
Last June 4, a shipment of expired medicines was found in a deposit located in San Cristóbal, the capital city of Andean Táchira state. It contained vaccines against hepatitis A and meningitis, antiallergenic drugs, gauze and syringes which went unnoticed. "The worst part of it is that we found the vaccines for hepatitis in children inside a cold room to store meat," local deputy Beatriz Mora lamented, after looking for three months for the input bought under the government of ex state governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz.

One week later, similar complaints were filed in eastern Monagas state. Representatives of opposition Voluntad Popular movement warned against the burning of surgical probes, catheters, saline solution bags, antibiotics and syringes. For his part, the coordinator of government health care Mission Barrio Adentro in Lara state, Luis Rodríguez, reported on 500 boxes or expired drugs.

Translated by Conchita Delgado
A scandal hard to hide
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