Maduro finally spoke before the National Assembly today. Despite the massive amount of anticipation that the speech would contain plans for desperately needed economic action, Maduro provided few meaningful details.
After speaking for nearly two hours, Maduro made the first concrete announcement regarding his plan for tackling the economic crisis. He said that starting tomorrow, inspectors would visit “all of the stores and wholesalers” in the country to make sure that no hoarding was going on.
Approximately two and a half hours after the start of the speech, Maduro made the rest of his announcements:
- A plan to protect Venezuelan families through the Gran Mision Hogares de la Patria, to “protect” children and the elderly.
- Increased resources for an extra 200,000 scholarships for high school students.
30% increase to university scholarships, affecting 250,000 scholarships in the country.
- 400,000 new homes, funded through increased funding to the relevant programs.
- “Special investments” into infrastructure to finish “important works” already under construction.
- A 15% increase to the minimum wage and pensions, the approval of 300,000 new pensioners, as well as a “health bonus” for the elderly
Gas Price Increase Likely
The tensest moment of the speech came almost three hours in when Maduro began to talk about gas prices.
Maduro said that current gas prices “don’t help to pay for anything”, and called the low prices “a distortion”. Acknowledging his previous claims that Venezuela “did not need the money”, he said that he was exaggerating and that, “of course we need the money”, finally calling for “balanced and just ” gas prices.
Just as Maduro appeared ready to announce increases, he took a step back and said that he was “calling for a debate” on the topic. He said the same thing months ago.
Biggest Announcement of the Night: Exchange Market Changes
Turning to the topic of the country’s convoluted exchange markets, Maduro said:
It is evident that there has been a steep fall in the national income. So, I’m forced to optimize our income, generate new income and sustain fundamental investment for the upkeep of society and the economy.
Due to the “national and international economic war”, Maduro announced changes to the way the country handles currency exchange. From now one, Venezuela will have three avenues for currency exchange:
- A prioritized exchange market for vital imports, virtually unchanged from the current official exchange system which sits at Bs. 6.30 per dollar.
- A single SICAD market (as opposed to the current two) to help simplify exchanges.
- A “new system” that will seek to appeal to those who currently trade on the black market.
The most important announcement is arguably the “new system” of exchange, which might have the effect of essentially legalizing the black market rate, which is many times higher than the official rate.
Maduro did not provide any additional information about the changes, leaving it to his ministers to do so in the coming days.
Maduro Speaks for Three Hours, Takes Bizarre Turns
The overwhelming majority of Maduro’s speech was typically verbose and winding. During the nearly two and a half hour during which he did not talk about economic measures, Maduro made a number of controversial statements, including the following:
- He blamed a “criminal economy” for hoarding products, which he claims is leading to the scarcity crisis.
- Maduro said that the Bolivarian revolution would “never be defeated”, and that it had the ability to overcome any difficulty it encountered. He also said that chavismo was the “spinal column on which our new independence” sustains itself, and that it was the only guarantee for peace in the country.
- Referencing his trip to Brazil earlier this year in which he met the vice-president of the United States, Maduro said that “comrade Biden” sent his regards to all of the members of the National Assembly.
- He referred to Vladimir Putin as “a great leader of a new Russia”. He called embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an ally of Venezuela, and criticized the United States for allegedly trying to overthrow him.
- He said that the scarcity crisis was part of a global conspiracy which results in Venezuelan industries hiding and hoarding products in stores.
- Maduro also said that while oil sits at around $40 per barrel, Venezuelans should not worry because “God will provide”.
- He said that the United States’ quest for energy independence through the development of shale oil was the first step in a planned attack on Russia, then Iran, and finally Venezuela. He said that his recent trip around the world was undertaken in defence of Venezuelan oil, which he insinuated was key to world peace.
- He also suggested that the people lining up in supermarkets around the country are “abnormal” covert agents financed by undisclosed “mafias” to give the impression that a scarcity crisis is underway.
Gov’t Suspends Single Mother Subsidies
A month ago, Maduro promised that no matter how low oil prices fell, government spending for social services would not be cut.
On Monday, the government announced that it was cutting all funding to the Mision Hijos de Chavez [Sons of Chavez Mission], a popular subsidy given to single mothers to help them support their families. The subsidy applied to single mothers with children younger than 17, of whom there are about 800,000 in the country.
While the cuts were announced on Monday, it appears as if the subsidy might have been in trouble for a while. Luisa Martinez, a 17 year old mother who relied on the program, said:
I give my sons rice water whenever I find it in stores, or when a neighbour gifts it to me, because I don’t have a job and for about a year us teen mothers living in barrios haven’t received any money at all.
Governor: Only Rich Line Up
Anzoategui state governor Aristobulo Isturiz gave an interview today to VTV, the state-owned television network. During the interview, Isturiz said that the poor do not line up to buy food in supermarkets. Isturiz said:
People with no money don’t line up. Everyone who lines up has money.
Isturiz also said that the long lines Venezuelans experience at supermarkets (and which have seemingly gotten worse since the start of the year) are the result of a “psychological war”.
I really enjoy writing this blog. I like thinking that I’m helping non-Spanish speakers gain a little insight into what’s going on in Venezuela. It is with great pleasure that I write these daily updates.
Having said that, listening to Maduro’s speech today was painful. The lack of leadership shown by Maduro and the rest of the PSUV in the face of the economic crisis is embarrassing. On a human level, it is shameful. Maduro’s nonsensical rambling was often met with hearty applause and fanatical shouting from the audience. Maduro could have read from a newspaper and he would have receive the same ovations. The lack of critical thought in the Venezuelan National Assembly and throughout the country by those who blindly support him and mindlessly applaud his every word is extremely disappointing.
Maduro spoke for roughly three hours and spent approximately fifteen minutes discussing concrete economic action, much of which will do absolutely nothing to help the country get through the crisis.
If there’s one thing I learned from Maduro’s speech is that Venezuela is undoubtedly heading off a cliff. Maybe not this year and maybe not the next, but as long as Maduro and his sycophants are in power, any kind of meaningful recovery is doubtful.
Or maybe I’m just too harsh on him. After all, “God will provide” is kind of a plan, right…? Right…?
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