By Jim Carey
The new US sanctions on Venezuela meant to target the CLAP food program proves there is nothing “humanitarian” about Washington’s concerns.
Last week the United States Department of Treasury placed new sanctions on multiple individuals and businesses connected to the Bolivarian government’s Local Committees for Supply and Production program (in Spanish Los Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción).
The program, better known as CLAP, began in early 2016 as a response to the US sanctions already in place at the time. The CLAP program was meant as a way for the revolutionary government, with the help of local organizations, such as the communes, to do home deliveries of staple food items. At the time of its inception, CLAP was made to guarantee that no matter whatever intensity of economic war on Venezuela the state would work with anyone willing citizens to ensure the delivery of the CLAP food boxes.
However, CLAP has also been a target of imperialist propaganda and economic attack since its inception as well. Beyond just the sanctions and restrictions on almost all foodstuffs going into Venezuela, CLAP, in particular, has been targeted by the US media for years on the grounds that the government providing a service to the poor is basically “buying votes.”
While this logic that “giveaways” are equivalent to bribery makes sense to imperialist politicians whose only belief is austerity along with crushing the political imagination and aspirations of their neoliberal subjects, these lies haven’t really worked on Venezuelans. Instead, the CLAP program has actually been expanded to get CLAP boxes to millions of families. CLAP also underwent more recent reforms earlier this year when changes were made to improve the distribution system and internal accounting.
The 2019 reforms also increased the number of Popular Markets “where items such as vegetables, tubers, roots, fruit and animal protein will be distributed” with the intent attending to “each of the parishes in the most populous sectors.” This was helped by the creation of Municipal Markets, which meant establishing localized production of all the staple food items for the CLAP program, a step that could further decentralize CLAP.
Yet, this possible revolutionary decentralization may never have time to come to fruition as, once again, more sanctions have been put on Venezuela. This time the sanctions targeted 13 companies and 10 individuals for alleged corruption in state contracts connected to CLAP.
Among the individuals sanctioned are Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s step-sons Walter, Yosser, and Yoswal. The main focus of Treasury’s ire, however, is Colombian national Alex Nain Saab Moran who Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed “engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide-scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population. Treasury is targeting those behind Maduro’s sophisticated corruption schemes, as well as the global network of shell companies that profit from the former regime’s military-controlled food distribution program.” Mnuchin also trotted out the media line referred to earlier that Maduro and the “regime insiders” use “food as a form of social control, to reward political supporters and punish opponents,” with the relationship between Saab and Maduro going back to 2009.
Treasury accuses Saab of both overcharging for state contracts to import and distribute food for CLAP as well as using “some of his profits from corrupt food contracts to pay bribes to government officials for the importation of food.”
While it seems odd for the US to care so much about CLAP boxes and local food distribution, also embedded deeper in the press release were some things that may be more important material concerns to Washington. While the CLAP accusations may sound bad, Treasury also mentioned that Saab is suspected of helping set up the necessary infrastructure and agreements to send Venezuelan gold to Turkey.
Despite the US sanctions on Venezuela, as well as moves like that of the Bank of England refusing to return billions in Venezuelan gold, NATO-ally Turkey and their President Recep Erdogan have remained loyal supporters of the Bolivarian revolution and have taken on the job of processing any new gold from Venezuela. According to the press release “Saab, in turn, worked with members of the Venezuelan government including El Aissami, the current Minister of Industries and National Production and former Executive Vice President, to create a structure for the Government of Venezuela to sell gold to Turkey.”
The US is also currently in a spat with Turkey over the recent importation of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, with Washington putting sanctions on multiple individuals and businesses in that country as well. While Washington may be pretending to care about CLAP, this fight between Washington on one side and Caracas and Ankara on the other likely heavily factored into the latest sanction targets.
Regardless of motivations, there is an obvious downside to this: CLAP is in the crosshairs at a time of radical reform. No matter what the US hopes to get out of the latest sanctions, regular Venezuelans who do rely on CLAP and the distribution network behind it will suffer. This is a continuation of ongoing US-Venezuela policy, which is to say it is yet another attempt to starve the average Venezuelan into submission to the US.
In exchange for betraying the Bolivarian revolution, the people of Venezuela will have the boot of US sanctions lifted only to have the boot of finance capital and economic pirates take its place. The latest assault on CLAP may have multiple motivations behind it but Washington’s intention remains the same, the Bolivarians must be crushed.