Venezuela military trafficking food as country starves

When hunger drew tens of thousands of Venezuelans to the streets last summer in protest, President Nicolas Maduro turned to the military to manage the country's diminished food supply, putting generals in charge of everything from butter to rice.

But instead of fighting hunger, the military is making money from it. That's what a grocer found when he ran out of pantry staples this year. In the middle of the night, he would travel to an illegal market run by the military to buy corn flour — at 100 times the government-set price, where he discovered that the military would be watching over whole bags of money and always had what the grocer needed.

With much of the oil country on the verge of starvation and malnourished children dying in pediatric wards, food trafficking has become big business in Venezuela. And the military is at the heart of the graft.

By putting the military in charge of food, Maduro is trying to prevent soldiers from going hungry and being tempted to participate in an uprising against an increasingly unpopular government, said retired Gen. Antonio Rivero.

"They gave absolute control to the military," Rivero said from exile in Miami. "That drained the feeling of rebellion from the armed forces, and allowed them to feed their families.”

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