(officially launched on April 24
) is a Bolivarian Mission
established in Venezuela
under the government of Hugo Chávez
. The government has set up subsidized grocery stores in a state-run company called Mercal
. At present some 11.36 million Venezuelans benefit from Mercal food programs on a regular basis . At least 14,208 Mission Mercal food distribution sites are spread throughout Venezuela, and 4,543 metric tons of food are distributed each day. Mission Mercal stores and cooperatives are mostly located in impoverished areas and sell generic-branded foods at discounts as great as 50%. While the company is heavily funded by the government, the goal is to become self-sufficient by replacing food imports with products from local farmers, small businesses, and cooperatives (many of whom have received microcredits from Mercal). This endogenous
development is central to Chávez's stated goal of non-capitalistic development from the bottom up.
The antecedent operations to Mission Mercal began operations following the economic hardships following the strike/lockout of 2002
. Up until that period, Venezuela's food production and distribution systems were primarily managed by large national corporations, a situation homologous to the present reality in Western nations such as the United States or Europe. As most corporations supported the strike/lockout, which was aimed at politically damaging Chávez, most of the food-related corporations joined the protests and ceased their operations. On the April 25
broadcast of the television show Aló Presidente
, Chávez expressed his outrage at Venezuela's lack of food sovereignty
and the resultant vulnerability to the agenda of major food corporations, which was manifest in closed supermarkets, growing malnutrition, and food shortages. “This offensive served us a lot because we learned from the imperialism’s attack, from the Venezuelan oligarchy, and from those who were supporting the aggression against Venezuela and who would liked to have defeated us with hunger. [We learned] that we did not have a gram or a grain of anything, of food reserves. Before any natural, political or social disaster, Venezuela did not have then food reserves," Chávez stated.
Afterwards, in the depths of the oil shutdowns and general turmoil of 2002, Mission Mercal's reach expanded rapidly. The Armed Forces were integral in providing logistical support in moving, procuring, warehousing, and distributing food. Military bases and supply depots were used as food supply nodes, while military barracks became storage centers. Chávez acknowledged this by stating that "the army of Venezuela took to the street, gave of themselves and made the task easier with their technology, their human resources, their means of transportation and their installations for storing food.”
With initially only three Mercals (markets) and two warehouses, Mission Mercal (following its permanent and official inauguration in 2003) quickly multiplied to the point where 12,500 Mercalitos (mini-Mercals), 13,392 Mercals, hundreds of cooperatives, 31 Supermercals (mega markets), and 102 vast warehouses comprised a sprawling distribution system serving millions of barrio dwellers.
Food and discounts offered
Victuals offered by Mission Mercal include everything from meat and dairy (including powdered milk and cheese), to fresh produce, preserved foodstuffs, grains and cereals, fruits, vegetable oils, and mineral salts. These goods are offered in Mercal-affiliated establishments at discounts averaging between 25% to 50%.
A final notable characteristic of Mission Mercal is to serve as a political tool for consistently providing low price comestibles at most places of the country in order to compete with private companies food chains.