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Once hailed by the UN for feeding the poor, Venezuela sees hunger rate triple

For years, international organizations hailed Venezuela for supporting its neediest. In 2013, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization gave the country an award for halving its hunger rate. But those days are over.

Last week, the same UN branch said Venezuela’s hunger rate had tripled since 2010. Now, 3.7 million people — 11.7 percent of the population — are malnourished. “The country has lost the important advances it had made during the decade of 2000,” the FAO said in its report, “Panorama of Food and National Security in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The FAO study said Venezuela was the primary reason the number of people facing hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean had grown from 38.5 million in 2014 to 39.3 million in 2017. The report, which compares three-year periods — 2010-2012 versus 2015-2017 — also found that Bolivia and Venezuela were the only countries in the region that saw malnutrition rates increase during that time.

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The Venezuela results are no surprise for much of the region. More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years — primarily to neighboring nations in South America. In Colombia, home to more than 1 million Venezuelans, a survey by the UN Refugee Agency found 90 percent of Venezuelan migrants said they moved due to lack of food.

The figures are a rebuke to the socialist administration that had presented itself for decades as a champion of the poor. Under President Nicolás Maduro, the country has rolled out a system of food subsidies that, in theory, helps millions stay fed. But in reality, critics say that program, known as the CLAP, has become mired in corruption and isn’t providing the quality or quantity of food needed.

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Venezuela’s economy has been in free fall amid a drop in oil prices, mismanagement and hyperinflation. In addition, Venezuela says U.S. financial sanctions are undermining its ability to import food and medicine and that Colombia and others are waging an “economic war” against it.

Despite its problems, Venezuela is not the worst-off nation in the region when it comes to food shortages. Haiti remains the country with the highest hunger and malnutrition rates in the hemisphere at 45.8 percent of the population. That’s followed by Bolivia (19.8 percent), Nicaragua (16.2 percent), Guatemala (15.8 percent) and Honduras (15.3 percent).