This scandal, which I mentioned in a previous post (Starting to Peel Back the Onion; July 9, 2010) exploded in Caracas’ independent newspapers and television in June, but it wasn’t news to the residents of Puerto Cabello, a seaport a couple of hours west of Caracas. About a year ago, they began reporting to local officials about odors coming from the Port that were so strong they were making people sick. People were hesitant to complain because many of them worked for the Port or knew someone who did. The mayor wrote and asked if someone could inspect the containers. A couple of state legislators managed to learn that early this year, fifty containers filled with milk cartons spoiled in the Port. They were told the matter was being investigated but nothing came of it.
Suddenly last month when the story hit the headlines, spoiled food was even reported dumped in creeks and landfills. As many as 4,000 containers of food, or 150,000 tons may have spoiled, wasting millions in public money. This has come after a season of periodic food shortages in Venezuela. Journalist Milagros Socorro described a complicated chain of events. Much more food is now imported because prices for domestic foods were pushed low and production dropped. The government now controls 32% of the food distribution in Venezuela, a huge increase in just a few years. They have created new agencies such as PDVAL, (formerly an arm of Petroleos de Venezuela), and Bolipuertos, to import and distribute food, pushing aside private companies who knew how get food through the Ports efficiently and to market.
The new government agencies didn’t know how to do any of this well, as investigative journalist Fabiola Zerpa describes in detail in the article “Puerto Paralizado” on June 20, 2010 in the newspaper “El Nacional”. Food began to pile up at Puerto Cabello and elsewhere. Some shipments of chicken and milk sat in containers at the Port for six months. A shipment of emergency food sent to Haiti even had to be sent back.
The government has charged several people with crimes but they have also gone on the counterattack, accusing private industry of hoarding food, making the sudden increase in imports necessary. Besides gross inefficiency, there have been allegations of fraud stretching from Caracas to Argentina, Brazil and China. It just keeps getting worse. Current news reports have displayed food purchase receipts signed by PDVAL officials passing through several middlemen at falsely marked-up prices.
Who can sort all this out? I don’t know, but meanwhile, Venezuelans, ever the practical jokers, took Shakira’s excellent song “This Time for Africa” written for the World Cup:
… and added a hilarious vocal track to it. In it you can hear the vocal take Shakira’s “waka waka” and change it to “wakala wakala” which is like “Yuck”. And “for Africa” becomes “por PudreVal”, which means something like “The Venezuelan rotten food agency”.
Shakira’s song wins hands down, but “Wakala” sure is funny.