January–February 2015        

Venezuela: New measures announced by Maduro as the economy wobbles

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela announced numerous economic measures during his annual address to the National Assembly, without announcing an increase in petrol prices, as was expected.
     Petroleum in Venezuela is “the cheapest in the world,” he declared, but “the moment has arrived to raise prices.” For one US dollar you can purchase 1,800 litres of subsidised petrol, which generates $12½ billion of expenses for the state. “They may crucify me, but we must do it this year, in 2015,” Maduro said.
     During an evaluation of the past year Maduro reflected on the opposition violence and the intensification of the economic war against the government, describing 2014 as “a complicated year” but one in which “nonetheless peace won over.”
     The Venezuelan economy shrank by 2.8 per cent last year; but despite this, social spending was maintained. “We can say that in 2014, despite the perturbation and the attacks . . . despite the sabotage and economic war . . . social spending was kept at 61 per cent . . . with six times more spent on public education, twenty-one times more on security, nine times more on health, nine times more on participation, six times more on housing, eight times more on culture, and ten times more on science and technology . . . Also, inequality decreased from 0.398 to 0.382.”
     The president also announced that the housing project Misión Vivienda (Operation Housing) fulfilled its goal of completing 673,416 houses in 2014, and that it planned to build 400,000 in 2015, as well as increasing the areas of the Misión Barrio Tricolor (Operation Tricolour Neighbourhood) from 127 to 200.
     Declaring that “it is in the economic that we have our greatest tasks: we mustn’t change the model but rather deepen it,” Maduro announced an increase of 15 per cent in the minimum wage and pensions.
     Similarly, 300,000 new pensioners are to be incorporated in the public pension system in 2015 through Misión Vivienda. “In 2015 we are going to implement a special plan for the protection of the Venezuelan family,” he announced, “which will have as its aim protecting children, pensioners, and women.” He announced a census of the homes that are enrolled in the project and the protection of more than 500,000 families, as well as proclaiming an increase in grants for middle-school pupils and university students.
     The eagerly anticipated announcements also included a revision of the entire national distribution network, following repeated denunciations of hoarding and smuggling. “Enough of dialogue! I will make the distributors sign an ultimatum to respect the people, and if not then I will act with the entire weight of the law . . . Let the national revision of the distribution network begin!”
     The Maduro government also approved significant investment for food production and agriculture as part of its efforts to combat the economic woes of the country.
     However, many people feel that the measures fall short of solving the deeply rooted problems caused by the economic war, as deliberately induced shortages worsen and inflation of 67 per cent eats away at wages. From some forces on the left the measures were criticised as “reformist” and “insufficient,” while those on the right continued to complain about currency controls and the economic model.
     Despite the date not yet having been fixed, Maduro referred to the forthcoming parliamentary elections, in which the opposition hopes to gain ground in the heavily pro-government parliament. “I have no doubts that the Bolivarian Revolution will have a great victory in the elections. We will see each other here again next year. If the elections were today we would overcome the right wing.”
     Maduro dedicated the yearly presidential address to Robert Serra, a young revolutionary deputy who was assassinated recently by paramilitaries financed by right-wing organisations.

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