By Hector Pereira
Caracas, Jan 16 (EFE).- About 10 million people suffered from hunger in Venezuela in 2017, one of the worst years in the country’s economic crisis, the official indicators of which are largely unknown except for certain ones recently revealed by Caracas in an attempt to demonstrate that the situation has improved but without clarifying how deep the damage has been in the seventh year of the recession.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced earlier this month that the nutritional deficit had been reduced to 7.7 percent by the end of 2022, an encouraging figure when compared with 2017, when 35.6 percent – about 10 million people – suffered from a lack of nutrition or, in other words, were poorly nourished.
This problem, Maduro said, has been “one of the most damaging and painful injuries” dealt by the crisis, but it’s neither the only one nor the worst one if one trusts the alarm sounded by humanitarian organizations, which have noted the country’s extreme poverty and the only slightly better conditions under which the majority of the people live.
During the presentation of annual figures last Thursday before the Parliament, Maduro broke his government’s silence and spoke about the economy and nutrition in presenting figures that he compared with earlier years to show that progress had been made, a move that revealed the severity of the crisis with years-old, but unprecedented, figures.
The Venezuelan economy grew by about 15 percent in 2022, said Maduro, the “biggest” increase in Latin America, although the data he provided referred only to the last six quarters – all of which have shown positive growth – without any reference to the period from April 2019 to June 2021, where no information has been made known, or to the five earlier years, during which the economy markedly contracted.
Despite those information gaps, the president emphasized, for example, the apparent fact that imports grew by 106 percent in 2022 to $8.194 billion.
In announcing this increase, he revealed that in 2021 imports totaled $3.979 billion, a figure not known until now and which reveals a drop of 90 percent compared with 2015, when foreign purchases totaled $36.901 billion.
Thus, today it can be confirmed that imports – as other areas of the economy, according to independent figures – contracted enormously over the past seven years, when the United Nations estimates that seven million Venezuelans fled their country to seek better living and working opportunities abroad.
Maduro also hailed the 78.3 percent increase in protein consumption in 2022 by Venezuelan households over the figure five years before, when just half the population, according to the same figures, were able to readily acquire meat, given that grocery stores and markets were relatively empty due to a generalized scarcity of many products.
The way of communicating this information is, in the opinion of nutritionist Susana Rafalli, rather obscure, but it confirms something that the government has denied for years. “In 2017, there was a severe food crisis” that, it now admits, has lessened, but things are not back to the levels that Maduro claims.
“It’s not true that protein (consumption) has returned to (that percentage of) homes,” she said, noting the UN estimate published in 2020 which stated that one-third of Venezuelans suffered from food insecurity, a figure that, she said, has indeed improved a bit.
Although these data come late, Rafalli emphasized, they reveal the government’s responsibility for not taking action in time to mitigate the lack of nutrition that took the lives of thousands of people in recent years.
Venezuelans have been “hard hit” in recent years, as Maduro acknowledged, although he did not clarify how bad the blow has been.