In 2016, Venezuela was in economic turmoil.

President Nicolás Maduro had recently taken office after the death of Hugo Chávez, and amid a mounting crisis, his government announced a new initiative billed as providing high-quality and essential food to people at risk of starvation.

A new documentary produced by FRONTLINE “A Dangerous Assignment: Uncovering Corruption in Maduro's Venezuela,” sheds light on a shadowy corruption scandal spanning from Venezuela to the United States, revealing that this program in Venezuela was not at all what the government claimed it would be, and how the reporters covering it became targets of Maduro.

“Venezuela was leaving a tremendous economic and social crisis, and the government at that moment decided to create a kind of social program to help poor people in Venezuela and to provide food for people in Venezuela,” journalist Roberto Deniz of the Venezuelan independent news site Armando.Info, told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel. “But the problem that we have uncovered with our investigation that now is in our documentary is that this was not a social aid from the Venezuelan government to the people.”

The program, Deniz said, was a way to funnel business to entrepreneurs close to the president. And the food was often of poor quality and low nutritional value, he said.

“We saw that the Venezuelan government decided to send money to different entrepreneurs very close to the Venezuelan government,” he said, like entrepreneurs Alex Saab. “Even worse: We demonstrate that in the case of the powdered milk that we were selling in these boxes to the poor people in Venezuela. We saw that it was a very, very bad quality product because the product was very high in carbohydrates, very high in salt, but very low in calcium and very low in protein.”

Deniz himself had to face investigations and ultimately fled Venezuela because of backlash from the powerful people he reported on, he said.

“In 2018, I had to flee Venezuela,” he said. “And I continued the investigation, living abroad, living in Bogota, in Colombia. … And so as you said, this is the cost, this is the risk that we have to face when we decide to do this kind of job in a country like Venezuela right now.”

He hopes to one day be able to return.

“I hope that Venezuela can change,” he said. “If that happens, I hope to come back in Venezuela. But right now, I'm not sure that that is going to happen.”