Venezuela: 'Capitalism behind biggest food crisis known'

Venezuela, along with Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, criticised the final declaration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Summit in Rome on June 5, arguing that the document failed
to identify the true causes of rising food prices, such as agricultural subsidies and unequal trade policies imposed by developed countries.

The declaration at the summit, which resulted in US$6.5 billion being pledged to boost agricultural production in underdeveloped countries, vowed to cut "by half the number of undernourished people by no later than 2015\".

Venezuelan ambassador to the FAO, Gladys Urbaneja Duran, objected to the document saying it lacked a "genuine humanitarian spirit" and aimed to present world hunger as merely a circumstantial crisis, when in reality it reflects a
structural problem linked to the capitalist system and its mode of production and consumption.

The current food crisis "is the biggest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model", Urbaneja argued in the debate yesterday.

Urbaneja rejected the position of the US delegation, which claimed the reason for the current food crisis was rapidly increasing demand from India and China.

Market speculation

"The main reason for the rise in food prices isn't growing demand from the Indian and Chinese markets, or the rise in petroleum prices", she countered. "The main reason is that food has been turned into yet another object of market
speculation."

The key factors weakening local economics in underdeveloped countries are "free trade" treaties and the flooding of markets by US produce, Urbaneja said.

A number of Latin American nations objected to the lack of concrete measures within the document and its failure to mention the need to cut subsidies and tariffs inside First World nations.

The Argentine government, which was the first to criticise the declaration, said in a statement: "Appropriate cures can't result from mistaken diagnosis … Argentina is formally
registering its dissatisfaction with a text that, while dealing with the question of food security, doesn't include a single reference that uses the term 'agricultural subsidies'.

"The elevated production and exportation subsidies and the application of exorbitant trade barriers, as well as conditions imposed by international financial organisations on developing countries, are the principal reasons why the correct signals have not been sent so that farmers in the poor countriesmaintain their commitment to agricultural production."

According to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, between $11 billion and $12 billion a year is spent on agricultural subsidies and restrictive tariff policies.

In the absence of "clear commitments", the Venezuelan delegate feared that the final declaration could become a "significant setback."

"We missed an opportunity to take a firm and clear step in the struggle against the scourge of hunger", Urbaneja concluded.

Since the beginning of 2007, world food prices have increased 60%, sparking riots in more than 30 countries, including Cameroon, Haiti, and Egypt that depend on imported food.

Biofuels

Another key debate at the summit was the question of biofuels. Biofuels (fuel produced from food products) are promoted by the US as an alternative to fossil fuels, however others argued that biofuel production — as well as being environmentally damaging — diverts vast amounts of land and resources from food production and will exacerbate the
food crisis.

The declaration simply stated that biofuels present both "challenges and opportunities" and called for further research.

Orlando Requeijo, Cuban vice-minister for foreign investment and economic cooperation, criticised the US's "sinister biofuels policy" and said the outcome is the result of a "lack of political will from Northern countries to promote a just and lasting solution to the world food crisis".

While the Latin American countries did not block the adoption of the final text, they presented their criticisms and objections in a separate addendum.

In a further statement on June 5, Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said "concrete responses" were necessary "in order to obtain concrete results in the short, medium, and long term."

"In the face of the international food crisis … the Bolivarian Government of President Hugo Chavez has advanced with concrete projects, both within our country and through the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)." ALBA is a "fair trade" treaty initiated by Venezuela as an alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

The Venezuelan government has made efforts to minimise the impact of the world food crisis within the country through the government subsidized food chain, Mercal, and the PDVAL state-owned food distribution company. Two months ago, Venezuela signed a food security treaty with other ALBA member nations.

Maduro said that Venezuela would raise further concrete proposals at upcoming multilateral meetings, including the next PetroCaribe Summit and an Agro-Food Summit soon to take place in Venezuela.

"This series of proposals will allow the construction of a response to the agricultural and food crisis from the perspective of a new, advanced social model of solidarity, which will overcome the limitations of the international
capitalist system of production and consumption that has brought humanity to the biggest food crisis known."

[Originally posted on http://venezuelanalysis.com on June 7. Kiraz Janicke is a member of the Caracas Green Left Weekly bureau, and will be a featured speaker at the Resistance national conference in Sydney, June 27-28. Visit http://resistance.org.au for more information.]

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