January 25., 2008
Amid the worst food shortages in Venezuela in decades, the government of President Hugo Chávez has put aside its anti-American rhetoric and bought tons of products from U.S. food companies.
A food supply plan launched this week by Chávez includes rice from Texas and Arkansas, black beans from Idaho, and cooking oil from Tennessee and Iowa.
During the launch of the plan, dubbed Food Combo, Chávez acknowledged that the shortages ''are hurting half the world'' in Venezuela and said his government will spend $800 million to buy about 150 tons of food around the world, including the United States.
Food production in Venezuela dropped after Chávez froze most prices, saying he wanted to make more food available to the country's poor.
The government runs a string of subsidized markets, which must import 70 percent of their products.
The Combo -- the name refers to a basket of foodstuffs that will be offered -- will include a liter of vegetable cooking oil bought from the Houston-based Cal Western Packaging Co.
The company is one of the biggest U.S. distributors of vegetable cooking oil, co-owner Ron Phelps told El Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview.
Several tons of black beans, a staple of the Venezuelan diet, were bought from the Trinidad Benham Corp. in Denver, the largest U.S. distributor of grains and rice.
The rice comes from Gulf Pacific, also based in Houston, which has processing plants in Arkansas and Texas.
The government also said it plans to import other foodstuffs such as eggs, milk products, beef, and chicken.
''Everyone is looking like crazy for containers of powdered milk and chicken to take to Venezuela,'' said a South Florida businesswoman who is negotiating contracts with U.S. suppliers.
Chávez has said the Combo plan aims to supply about one-third of the national consumption -- about 300,000 tons per month, to be sold through neighborhood shops and councils.