Venezuelan decree could order citizens to work in the fields

An executive decree by Veneuzlan President Nicolas Maduro may require thousands of citizens to work on farms in order to deal with the serious food shortages that have been getting worse for months.


"Trying to tackle Venezuela's severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid," Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas' Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

President Nicolas Maduro is using his executive powers to declare a state of economic emergency. By using a decree, he can legally circumvent Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly -- the Congress -- which is staunchly against all of Maduro's actions.

According to the decree from July 22, workers would still be paid their normal salary by the government and they can't be fired from their actual job.

t is a potent sign of tough conditions in Venezuela, which is grappling with the lack of basic food items like milk, eggs and bread. People wait hours in lines outsides supermarkets to buy groceries and often only see empty shelves.

Venezuela once had a robust agricultural sector. But under its socialist regime, which began with Hugo Chavez in 1999, the oil-rich country started importing more food and invested less in agriculture. Nearly all of Venezuela's revenue from exports comes from oil.

With oil prices down to about $41 a barrel from over $100 about two years ago, Venezuela has quickly run out of cash and can't pay for its imports of food, toilet paper and other necessities. Neglected farms are now being asked to pick up the slack.

Maduro's actions are very similar to a strategy the communist Cuban government used in the 1960s when it sought to recover sugar production after it declined sharply following the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods. It forced Cubans to work on sugar farms to cultivate the island's key commodity.

It's important to note that Maduro has issued decrees before and they often just languish. In January, his government published a decree that put in place mechanisms to restrict the access and movements to the money in the accounts. In other words, a kind of bank freeze. However, that hasn't happened yet.

There have been several examples in addition to Cuba of Communist dictatorships forcing urban residents to work in the fields. Mao, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge all set up forced labor camps in the countryside to deal with chronic food shortages. The Khmer Rouge also wanted to create a rural utopia and sent millions into the countryside where more than 1 million were beaten, starved, or executed.

The tyrannical impulse that is driving Maduro may have their origins in the military:

This latest action by Maduro may also be a sign that at least one other leader may be calling the shots on this issue. Earlier in July, Maduro appointed one of the country's defense ministers, Vladimir Padrino, as the leader of a team that would control the country's food supply and distribution.

It's powerful role, especially at a time of such scarcity in Venezuela.

"The power handed to Padrino in this program is extraordinary, in our view, and may signal that President Maduro is trying to increase support from the military amid a deepening social and economic crisis," Sebastian Rondeau, an economist at Bank of America, wrote in a research note.

You can bet that the first in line for scarce food resources are the soldiers who are expected to prop up Maduro in his fight with the National Assembly. But, according to the IMF, Venezuela has the worst economy in the world. It's expected to contract 10% this year and inflation is running at 700%. It's doubtful the military will support Maduro if those numbers are maintained.



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