Shortly after the noon hour, news broke out via the Gaceta Oficial 40.929 that the entirety of the country is now under a state of economic emergency for a period of 60 days. The text of the declaration of emergency, found in the Gaceta Oficial‘s Decreto 2,184, reads:
A state of economic emergency is being declared throughout the entire national territory in adherence to the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its judicial order for a period of 60 days.
While it was not immediately clear exactly what measures the national government will take under this state of economic emergency, Minister of the Economy Luis Salas spoke to the media briefly after the Gaceta Oficial‘s publication and tried to shed some light on what the declaration means.
Salas explained that the state of emergency means that the usual way annual budgets are worked on and approved will likely see some changes, and that it allows the national government to provide “extraordinary resources” to public institutions. Salas also said that individual ministries will be allowed to “coordinate with the Banco Central de Venezuela to restrict the flow of the national currency”.
Salas also made a call for calm in the face of the news, saying:
We want to send out a message of calm to the Venezuelan people. These are measures to protect you, not hurt you.
The National Assembly now has eight days to examine the decree and decide whether or not to approve it.
List of Possible Measures Revealed
Ultimas Noticias published a list of the special measures the executive could take during the 60-day economic emergency:
- Make use of the resources made available in the 2015 budget with the goal of guaranteeing investment to safeguard the continued operation of social programs, investment in productive infrastructure, agriculture and industry, and the timely supplying of food and other products necessary for life.
- Assign extraordinary resources to projects, be they identified in the budget or not, to institutions and entities in public administration in order to optimize service to Venezuelans when it comes to health, education, nutrition and homes.
- Design and implement special measures in order to immediately reduce tax evasion.
- Do away with the modes and requirements of public contracts for organizations and entities that offer contracts in certain sectors with the goal of speeding up purchases by the State that [it deems to be] of an urgent character within the lifetime of this decree.
- Use the procedures and requirements needed for the exporting and importing of merchandise.
- Implement special measures to speed up the flow of merchandise through the sea and air ports of the country.
- Do away with the exchange procedures established by CENCOEX and by the Banco Central de Venezuela with respect to public organizations and entities with the goal of speeding up and guaranteeing the importing of goods or raw materials that are indispensable to keep the country supplied.
- Require public and private businesses to increase their levels of production, along with the supply of determined raw materials to the country’s food production centres and that of essential goods to guarantee the satisfaction of the Venezuelan people’s basic necessities.
- Adopt all necessary measures to guarantee prompt access of the population to food, medicine and other basic necessities.
- Adopt measures to stimulate foreign investment to the benefit of the country’s productive apparatus, along with that of the exporting of non-traditional products as a means to create new jobs, [and bring in more] foreign currency and incomes.
- Develop, strengthen and protect the gran mision [social service] and socialist social services system with the goal of encouraging the creation of small and medium-size producers, be they [originating from] communities, privately, through the state or as a mixture of all.
The wording of the possible measures has come under criticism from experts due to their vagueness.
Economists: Decree Will Not Help
Economist Luis Oliveros warned that the emergency declaration would give the government the ability to take over any private company – including Polar, the nation’s largest and most successful privately-owned producer of food products.
Oliveros told El Nacional:
The government would be able to do a whole set of things that would normally require approval from the National Assembly. This government does not recognize the National Assembly (…) what it’s asking for through this declaration of economic emergency is that the country give it all the power – more than an habilitante [rule by decree] law – to do what remains to be done.
Oliveros also said that far from offering solutions to the crisis, the decree appears to give the government to power to take more of the same measures he blames for causing the crisis in the first place. When asked what the National Assembly should do with the decree, Oliveros said:
The Assembly should ask for an explanation; first of all, of why in a decree of economic emergency there isn’t a single figure showing what’s happening in Venezuela, [and why] it falls into the same cliches of taking about an economic war. The deputies should question the ministers and ask what the objectives are.
Economist and National Assembly deputy Jose Guerra leveled similar criticisms at the decree, citing the fact that it does not contain any measures to tackle the macroeconomic distortions that are the cause of the crisis. Guerra also had harsh words for Minister of the Economy Luis Salas specifically, saying:
Minister Salas has no idea of the magnitude of the economic, fiscal and exchange crisis that Venezuela suffers from today.
Maduro Speaks at National Assembly
Just hours after the news of the economic emergency broke, Maduro gave his yearly address to the National Assembly.
Maduro began his address by admitting that he was speaking before a legislature that had been “conquered” by the “opposition to the Bolivarian revolution”, and then continued to lament that fact that some modern rendering of Simon Bolivar along with Chavez’s pictures had been removed from the National Assembly. In a dramatic gesture, Maduro then presented Allup with a gift: a picture of Simon Bolivar.
He blamed the recent collapse of oil prices as one of the primary culprits of the country’s economic crisis, along with “an attack against our currency” he believes is directed by Venezuela’s enemies to devalue the bolivar and create inflation.
Maduro also reiterated his belief in the existence of what he called a “non-conventional” war: an “economic war that has attacked numerous sectors of our nation’s life”.
Speaking directly on the topic of the economic emergency, Maduro called on the National Assembly to approve the measure in order to create “a productive economy that produces and distributes wealth equally”.
Allup used his rebuttal to criticize the past 17 years of PSUV rule with special emphasis on Maduro’s tenure. He began his address by giving Maduro advice: “Sometimes, it’s better to bend so that you don’t snap”.
Allup stressed the importance of the National Assembly as a “constitutional and autonomous” power, and lamented the fact that today was the first time in 17 years that the national government had asked the opposition to consider economic measures:
We’ve had this [economic] model for 17 years and this is the first time that a dialogue has been called.
While Allup spoke, PSUV deputies heckled him during several occassions, to which Allup replied with, “even though you don’t want to hear what I am going to say, you must have patience”.
Allup also stood firm by the opposition’s commitment to seek the passing of an amnesty law for the country’s political prisoners, saying:
We can’t continue [business] here while there are political prisoners.
BCV Published Inflation, Scarcity Data for First Time in Over a Year
The Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) published official statistics on the country’s inflation and scarcity indexes for the first time in over a year.
The BCV also revealed that the scarcity index for some basic necessities hit the 87% mark, meaning that Venezuelans would have been unable to find certain items in supermarkets 9 times out of 10. The BCV named “the hoarding of products” as the primary culprit for the high scarcity level.
PSUV Deputy Speaks on Censorship, Violence
PSUV deputy Tania Diaz spoke in an interview with Globovision last night on the issue of censorship, saying that it did not occur in Venezuela. Instead, Diaz suggested that the Bolivarian revolution had ensured a democratization of media, and stated plainly that “it is clear that there is no censorship in Venezuela”.
Diaz was asked about comments Maduro made inn a televised speech on January 6 in which he angrily lashed out at private media for broadcasting from the National Assembly on the legislature’s first day of the term and warned two networks that “you are going to make a mistake”. Diaz said that Maduro had a right to voice his opinion, and that she did not consider his comments to be a threat.
On the issue of violent behaviour from government supporters outside the National Assembly, Diaz said that she did not support such actions, but that she had never murdered anyone, something she claims the opposition has done for its support for the 2014 protests.
PDVSA Corruption Case Sees Defendant Moved
Venezuelan businessman Abraham Shiera was ordered transferred from detention in Miami to Houston, Texas, where he will undergo trial over allegations that he bribed PDVSA officials in order to win contracts with the state-owned oil company.
Five Air Force, Two Army Officers Arrested for Drug Trafficking
The Public Ministry revealed yesterday that it had ordered five “high ranking” air force offices and two retired army and National Guard officers to stand trial for their alleged involvement in a drug trafficking operation. The Public Ministry issued a press released, part of which reads:
A trial has been ordered for five high ranking Bolivarian Air Force officers along with two retired officers from the Army and the National Bolvarian Guard for allegedly allowing illegal flights to enter Venezuelan air space for the purposes of transporting psychoactive and narcotic substances.
The air force officers include a colonel, a major, a captain and two lieutenants, while the army officers include a major and a sergeant. The men are being held in the Ramo Verde military prison outside of Caracas.
Maduro, Flores Go For Walk
Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores appeared in a piece that aired on the state-owned VTV channel taking a stroll down the Urdaneta Avenue in Caracas and interacting with citizens. The Miraflores Palace is found on Urdaneta Avenue.
Below, a clip of their walk, along with my translation:
Narrator: After a day of work, President Nicolas Maduro and First Combatant Cilia Flores greeted their neighbours around the Miraflores Palace. He chatted with them; they told him about things that they needed, and he responded to them immediately.
Maduro: … we’re going to look after you right away.
Woman: Wow! Thank you!
Maduro: Homeland! Homeland! That’s right! Homeland!
Maduro: [holding child] I’m going to bring her home with me! I’m bringing her home with me! Give me a kiss and go back to your dad.
Maduro: [shaking hands with people] How are you? Are you out for a stroll?
Woman in White: Can I take a picture with you?
Maduro: Take it! Ok, you stand over here.
Narrator: During his walk, he met with the homeland’s youth with whom he shared a few words and remembered the legacy of Robert Serra [murdered PSUV deputy] and Commander Hugo Chavez. All of this happened during a Caracas night.
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