Venezuela, not long ago, one of the most prosperous countries in South America is facing something very close to mass starvation.
You can see the signs on the streets of Caracas the capital city and in other cities, towns and rural areas across the country.
Associated Press reporters Joshua Goodman and Hannah Dreier have described the lines of people waiting, often all day, to buys a few items for sale in almost-empty stores; the hospital pediatric wards filled with underweight children; once middle-class adults picking through trash bins for food. No wonder whole neighborhoods are like war zones, under attack by criminals, under siege by violent street protests.
And yet, when it comes to importing food – and almost all food in Venezuela is imported because its agricultural sector is in ruins – there is the world price, and there is the Venezuelan price, which can run to twice as much.
This is not, as President Nicolas Maduro sometimes claims, evidence of an international right-wing conspiracy against him and his government. It is, as our guest today, AP’s Bogota-based Bureau Chief for Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, Joshua Goodman revealed in a January 1, investigative mega-report done with his colleague and former HERE & THERE guest Hannah Dreier the result of a domestic conspiracy, dominated by the military to whom President Maduro has handed the whole national market for food.
Hannah and Josh have shown through government and private documents, and dozens of testimonies from sources in, formerly in, and outside of the military, and private vendors from those who sell shiploads of food supplies for millions of dollars to bakers who have to bribe their way to a week’s worth of sugar for their shops, a system that steals from top to bottom and removes tens of millions of dollars from Venezuela’s economy and Venezuelan citizens’ pockets.
This corruption on a national scale is actually dwarfed by a multi-national scandal involving one huge Brazilian construction company which – it’s executives have admitted – paid out close to $800 million worth of bribes over 15 years in 9 countries of Latin America. The Odebrecht company was just fined last December a record $3.5 billion, and confessions from former company big shots have implicated former Presidents of Brazil, Peru, Panama, and quite possibly Colombia. Investigations are underway in all those countries, but in Venezuela, where company officials have said they paid just under $100 million in bribes, the biggest jackpot outside Brazil, official prosecutions have been slow off the mark.
Joshua Goodman is the Associated Press’ Bureau Chief for the Andean Region of South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.) He is based in Bogota, but visits Caracas and the rest of Venezuela on a regular basis.