This article investigates the right to food in Venezuela under President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013). It argues that although Chávez respected the right of (especially poor) Venezuelans to food, he failed to protect that right at the same time as he tried to fulfill it. In the short term, he fulfilled the right to food by establishing state-run stores where food could be purchased at a substantial discount, and by imposing price controls on food. At the same time, however, he reduced the supply of food by undermining property rights, expropriating large-scale farms and ranches as well as some wholesale and retail food distributors. Many producers and retailers withdrew from the market because they could not afford to sell food at control prices, further reducing the absolute supply of food. Extraordinarily high rates of inflation reduced Venezuela’s import capacities and raised the prices of non-controlled food. Violations of civil and political rights, such as muzzling of media, electoral fraud, and undermining the rule of law, made it difficult for Chávez’s critics to oppose his food policies and instigate reform. What success Chávez did have in fulfilling the right to food was a result of oil rents which enabled massive food imports, and which he also used to pay for his social programs, without official budgetary oversight. However, mismanagement of oil sales and revenues endangered Venezuela’s long-term economic health. By the time Chávez’s died in 2013, food shortages were extremely severe, and continued to be under his successor, Nicolás Maduro.

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