The people of Venezuela have been starving for years. Now President Nicolás Maduro is gifting some of them boxes of food — just two months before the presidential election.
The boxes, which are referred to as CLAPs (from the Spanish for "The Local Supply and Production Committees"), contain things like rice, pasta, grains, cooking oil, powdered milk, or canned tuna. All of the boxes are stamped with the faces of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
The boxes aren’t free, but the prices are within the buying range of Venezuelans, who have a minimum wage of less than $2. Even basic food items like fruit or eggs can be exorbitantly expensive for most Venezuelans. CNN reported that in 2016, “the average Venezuelan living in extreme poverty lost about 19 pounds due to the lack of food.”
Inflation in Venezuela has reached 4,000 percent. Maduro has insisted that Venezuela’s widespread poverty is caused by his political opponents and U.S. sanctions, rather than the policies of his own socialist government.
A single mother in a poor neighborhood of Caracas told Reuters that the handouts definitely made a difference to her.
“I and other women I know are going to vote for Maduro because he’s promising to keep giving CLAPs, which at least help fix some problems,” she said. This woman was afraid enough of the regime that she refused to allow the outlet to use her last name.
This charity is motivated not by concern, but by politics. It’s propaganda in the form of food for hungry mouths, and it’s not a secret.
“The CLAPs are here to stay. They are an instrument of the revolution,” CLAP chief administrator Freddy Bernal told Reuters. “It has helped us stop a social explosion and enabled us to win elections and to keep winning them.”
But the CLAP system is far from perfect. The quasi-handouts are not available in many areas, and even when they are available, they often “arrived half late and would only come every few months,” Reuters reported.
The program is also reportedly rife with corruption. Venezuelans say that they are often charged more than the official price for the food, and some of the distributors are insisting on getting an additional tip.
Maduro may be pushing the CLAP program to curry favor from his people, but he has also been working to solidify his hold on power in other ways. Maduro has banned his political rivals from running against him in the May 20 election.
In November 2013, he had the National Assembly, then controlled by his socialist backers, give him “emergency” powers. In May 2017, he managed to get the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which is dominated by his socialist supporters, to strip power from the Venezuelan Congress, which was dominated by his political opponents.