Now we know why Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's de facto dictator, recently handed over responsibility for food production to the military: He's going to need soldiers on farms and elsewhere in the food distribution chain to keep conscripted workers in line.
That's because on July 22, now over a week ago, Maduro's government decreed "... that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis." Those words are from a July 28 Amnesty International press release. Amnesty correctly contends that the move "is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labour." Amnesty appears to have taken six days to respond because the first reports from the world's press did not appear until Thursday. As of shortly after 9 a.m. Eastern Time Saturday morning, the Associated Press, despite having at least four reporters in Venezuela, still hasn't covered Maduro's order. Neither has the New York Times.
Venezuela's new decree: Forced farm work for citizens
A new decree by Venezuela's government could make its citizens work on farms to tackle the country's severe food shortages.
That "effectively amounts to forced labor," according to Amnesty International, which derided the decree as "unlawful."
In a vaguely-worded decree, Venezuelan officials indicated that public and private sector employees could be forced to work in the country's fields for at least 60-day periods, which may be extended "if circumstances merit."
"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.
It 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 (sic) 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.
Well, at least CNN Money eventually got around to calling Maduro's regime "socialist." Other reports, including one published yesterday at CNBC, did not, and almost seemed to make the regime look like the victim:
Under President Nicolas Maduro, the country has been gripped by skyrocketing inflation and food shortages that have led to rising unrest this year.
Venezuela's oil-dependent economy capsized with the fall in crude prices in 2014, leaving whole swaths of the country's 31 million people without enough food or other necessities. Inflation is expected to hit almost 720 percent this year, and gross domestic product is seen falling by 8 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, left the nation in a vulnerable economic position by nationalizing energy assets while oil prices were high and spending proceeds on widespread social programs. Oil's global drop in 2014 left the government far short of its revenue needs and with only an anemic private sector to generate taxes or jobs.
CNBC reporter Richard Washington didn't note, as CNN Money did, that the government has ruined the agricultural sector.
As of just before 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, a Google News search on "Venezuela forced labor" (not in quotes, sorted by date) returned fewer than a dozen stories.
The Associated Press's failure to cover this story is appalling, inexcusable and, given its presence there and apparently strong network of contacts, arguably deliberate. Why, it's almost as if the AP has kept the story under wraps to keep it from competing with Hillary Clinton's coronation as the Democratic Party's U.S. presidential nominee in Philadelphia.
I would hope that I'm wrong, but if form holds, the AP will quietly cover the story this weekend, and subscribing media broadcast outlets won't mention the story on Monday because by then it will be "old news."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.