Hugo Chávez’s government has granted Cuba key concessions in Venezuela’s food distribution system by making the island its purchasing agent abroad as well as its seaport manager — activities that represent a fabulous business for the Castro brothers while generating more scarcity and huge losses for Venezuela.
The governor of the state of Carabobo, Henrique Salas Feo, said that a great part of the problems of scarcity and cost of living increases in Venezuela could be attributed to the corruption of people close to its government and Cuba’s inefficiency managing the facilities at Puerto Cabello.
“Puerto Cabello is the entry gate to Venezuela; it handles 80 percent of everything that enters or leaves the country, but since the Cubans took over, things are getting worse by the day, which is affecting Venezuelans’ daily life,” Salas said in a telephone interview with El Nuevo Herald.
“The economic reality of all Venezuelans depends on the good management of the port, but imported goods are incurring in enormous delays that create scarcity and increase costs that end up transferred to the consumer,” he said.
According to the governor’s estimates, poor port management and corruption are provoking a 30-day delay in containers entering the country, which contrasts with the 72 hours it took before Cubans took control.
The port terminal is of particular importance due to the severe deterioration of the Venezuelan productivity as a result of government policies, which has increased the dependence on imports, he said.
The situation created by expropriations, the strict currency exchange control and the system that controls pricing is leading Venezuela to go abroad to acquire basic consumer products.
The Chávez administration has also granted concessions to Cuban enterprises to acquire products abroad, a situation that lends itself to corruption.
“[The Cubans] control everything that comes in and goes out. We are importing meat from Nicaragua. Yet often that container does not come from Nicaragua and it is subject to a triangulation whereby a Cuban food enterprise buys the meat at a certain price and later sells it to Venezuela at a higher price,” Salas said.
The governor said there are no practical reasons for Venezuela to grant Cuba the business of purchasing its food abroad. “They are bleeding the country dry,” he said.
Puerto Cabello was transferred to Cuban hands in 2009 after Chávez took away the management of the port facilities from the regional government to hand it to Puertos del Alba, a joint company that is 51 percent owned by Venezuela and 49 percent by the Castro regime.
Salas said the measure was taken after Carabobo’s government went to the opposition and that the decision had little to do with centralizing port operations, as the government argued.
The reason was to “protect the huge agreements that the previous governor of Carabobo,” affiliated with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, had established, he said.
Yet all that the transfer of management accomplished was increasing corruption inside the port, besides creating new business opportunities for Raúl Castro’s government.
The result is that now containers take longer to enter the country, partly due to the inept Cuban management and also due to internal corruption.
“Any port is composed by a number of so-called ‘patios’ that were given to friends of ministers, admirals and generals,” he said.
The owners of these patios, which are large spaces to station containers, charge the Venezuelan government a significant amount of money for each day a container is delayed getting out of these areas, the governor said.
The governor’s statement matches a report issued by the private intelligence firm Stratfor, released by WikiLeaks, describing how the systematic destruction of Venezuelan productivity, replacing it with a model based on the import of goods, generates a corruption spiral that worsens the scarcity problems in order to obtain bigger contracts.
The report revealed that government officials involved in food imports hoard the goods to justify new transactions, and it partially attributed the huge losses from rotten food at Venezuelan ports to corrupt officials.