How Venezuelans Turn to Collective Action to Defy US Blockade

(TELESUR) – As the United States government intensifies its unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela, its people have turned to one another to push ahead and deal with economic sanctions. Local Colectivos (Collectives) and demonstrations of popular support have come to represent the unbreakable will of the Bolivarian Republic.

Yet the economic blockade keeps piling up, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced on May 28 that the U.S. has prevented the Venezuelan government from accessing hundreds of million dollars of its own money, which was destined for basic products such as food and medicine.

The result of these actions was shown in a recent report, ‘Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela’, made by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, revealed that 40,000 people may have died in the Latin American nation in the last two years because of the Trump administration. While it is estimated that the sanctions have caused at least US$130 billion in damages between 2015 to 2018.

As a method to resist in the midst of the imposed economic hardships, the Venezuelan government created in 2016 the Local Committees of Supply and Production (CLAPS) to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society. Led by popular organization, together with the Ministry of Food, CLAPS became in charge of house-to-house distribution of subsidized basic necessity products.

“If it weren’t for the CLAP, millions of families would be in an unsustainable crisis because of the US sanctions,” CLAP Director, Freddy Bernal stated. This initiative was conceived as a mechanism to combat the resale, speculation, hoarding, and contraband of basic food products.

Each CLAP is made up of four articulated collectives (Colectivos): the National Union of Women (UnaMujer), the Bolivar-Chavez Battle Unit (Ubch), the Francisco de Miranda Front (FFM) and different communal councils of each territory, whose first task is to hold a census of population of the locality in order to asses their needs.

Then each organized community, through its communal councils, receives food packages from the government to distribute to those families that need it the most. Each box contains a range of food products such as cornflour, cooking oil, rice, beans, and pasta. According to  Bernal, the packages, which cost about US$0.40, come with a 98 percent subsidy from “regular market” prices.

These are reminiscent of Chilean Salvador Allende’s 1972 Boards of Supply and Price Control (JAP), which were local administrative units to help and alleviate the chronic shortage of food and supplies that were imposed on the country by U.S. pressure from within and from external sources.

But CLAPS not only distribute products but also produce them in a collective manner. There are those tasked with the production of short cycle foods such as legumes, tubers, roots and the breeding of minor species such as rabbits, sheep, chickens. As well as those that provide personal hygiene items, household cleaning, among others.

Others such as those in the fishing sector have distributed more than 1,000 tons of fish throughout the country, while the textile CLAP makes school uniforms for children. All in all more than seven million Venezuelan families benefit from the CLAP program on a monthly basis.

“The main enemy [of the CLAP] is North American imperialism and its internal lackeys. We will defeat them with more production, better packing, and supervision, etc,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced on May 29.

It is for this very reason, that the U.S. has now decided to target the initiative and attack it with a brand new battery of sanctions. Multiple government agencies, including the National Security Council and the Treasury, State and Justice Departments, are involved in the effort.

“We don’t have a date for the sanctions but the (legal) accusations will come in good time,” U.S. Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Efe in an interview on May 22.

As CLAPS are threatened,  President Maduro announced on May 29, the incorporation of the National Bolivarian Militia into the food program. The militias will be involved “directly in the tasks and functions of supervising and controlling the food mission (…) in the 1,141 parishes across the country.”

The militias are defense organization and the civilian branch of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, created by Hugo Chavez in 2008. On April 13, its 10th founding anniversary, its current voluntary membership amounts to 2,199,907 men and women, organized into more than 51,000 Popular Defense Units throughout the country.

The Venezuelan head of state has vowed to have among its ranks at least three million militiamen and women by the end of 2019. All ready to defend the country if the situation calls for their presence.