Long gone are the days in which people could find whatever they were looking for in their local supermarket.
Caracas, Venezuela – Venezuela’s most recent initiative to deal with the widespread food shortages? Some 9,000 “committees” across the country made up of government loyalists are now directly handling the distribution of whatever groceries are still available.
Under the new provision, the selected members of the committees (known as CLAP for its Spanish acronym) are authorized to take truckloads of some food products from supermarkets, warehouses or state-run companies and distribute them directly to families – which have previously been “surveyed” by such committees.
The products available to the CLAPs are only those with government-regulated prices: milk, corn flour, poultry sugar, rice, wheat, pasta products, butter and oil, among others.
The program comes at a time when Venezuela’s economy is collapsing and basic items like food and medicine is difficult to come by.
On Wednesday, Food Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres said up to 70 percent of these products are to be distributed by the CLAP committees, leaving just 30 percent for retail.
While the government alleges that the measure looks to protect Venezuelans' interests and preserve order, a lot of people say the new committees are incurring in political discrimination since the allocation of food clearly favors families who show a Chavista affiliation card.
“They are favoring those living in poor areas and where Chavismo have been historically strong,” said Luis Ramirez, a Caracas resident from La Pastora, a middle-class district whose committee has not yet received any food to distribute.
His case is not the only one. Oscar Molina, a resident of La Candelaria district in Caracas, told Fox News Latino their case is similar.
“They are focusing in the poorest places, but we all have to eat,” he said.
In some places, CLAP members openly admit that they take into account political preferences when allocating food.
“The party hasn’t told me to do that, but if I don’t receive enough food I will give to Chavistas first,” said Haydee Toro, a party member in Filas de Mariche, a popular segment in the state of Miranda.
In Carrizales, another part of Miranda, Aurimar Gonzalez said the CLAP in her community warned the neighbors that any person that signed the petition for a referendum against President Nicolas Maduro won’t have the opportunity to buy the bags of food they allocate.
“They said that they will check the population survey name by name,” she explained.
The ruling socialist party, in office since 1999, denies that they intend to discriminate people based on their political preferences.
“This is just a way to protect the people against mafias that accumulate products to later resell at a higher price. (…) This is just a momentary plan while we overcome the economic crisis,” Hector Rodriguez, a member of the PSUV, told FNL.
But discrimination is not the only problem surrounding the CLAPs – when they have allocated food, the quantity hasn’t been enough for a whole family.
The popular segments of El Paraiso, for example, another Caracas district, started to receive food two weeks ago.
“For now we will be able to sell one bag of food per month to each family. Our goal is to sell one every week, but it’s hard,” said Luz Poveda, a member of the CLAP there.
In the first week they sold milk, sugar, wheat for arepas, condensed milk, butter, rice and oil.
“This is enough for just one week in my house, but I am happy because it’s the first time in months that I buy these products without having to do a long line,” Gregoria Ojeda, one buyer in El Paraiso, told Fox News Latino.
Most CLAP committees haven’t been able to sell proteins like meat or chicken, which are hard to find and increasingly expensive in Venezuela.
They are typically selling to families every 20 or 30 days. Some have created identification cards to keep track of the buyers.
In order to increase the amount of food available for the CLAPs, the government is taking controversial decisions. Last week it was announced that all the scarce products distributed to supermarkets in downtown Caracas will have to be sold directly and exclusively to the committees, which will be in charge of the distribution.
Last Thursday, a protest broke up when a supermarket announced to the costumers waiting in line that they would not sell them the products because they were going to give them to the CLAPs.
According to the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, so far this year there have been 680 protests for food, 172 of them in May.
Carlos Julio Rojas, a community leader in La Candelaria, said he is concerned about the availability of food in upcoming weeks.
“If the CLAPs don’t allocate food in the middle-class areas and take products from the supermarkets, we won’t have where to buy,” he said.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.