Venezuela’s Maduro Delivers 2016 State of the Union Address

In his speech, Maduro derided Venezuela’s private sector for neglecting to invest in national industry and waging a “speculative” war against the country’s economy. He also pledged to continue his governments socialist agenda into 2016 - despite an opposition controlled legislature.

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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Caracas, January 18th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivered his annual state of union address on Friday - following weeks of speculation on whether he would present his speech to parliament or the Supreme Court. 

Every year the Venezuelan executive and their ministerial cabinet are obliged to present a yearly report to congress detailing the government’s actions and achievements the previous year, as well as a future plan for government. 

This year was the first time that Maduro addressed his state of union speech to majority opposition lawmakers - who swept a victory in the country’s legislative elections on December 6th 2015. 

But Supreme Court ruling in early January found the assembly to be void after it violated a court order prohibiting three opposition lawmakers from being sworn in. The motion sparked controversy surrounding where the state of union address would be held, but was temporarily abated when the four lawmakers in question withdrew. 

On Friday, hundreds of government supporters gathered outside the National Assembly to offer their support to the country’s embattled president, who has repeatedly come under fire by the country’s private sector and international financial institutions since he came to office in 2013. 

This year’s state of union address also comes amidst a worsening financial crisis marked by spiralling inflation - mostly linked to the devaluation of the Bolivar on the black market - and a huge loss of national revenue due to the plummeting global price of oil.

Nonetheless, in his speech Maduro pointed out that his government had achieved impressive figures in 2015 despite the crisis - including an unemployment rate of 6% and a formal employment figure of 70%.

Addressing the causes of the economic emergency afflicting the country, Maduro derided the Venezuelan private sector for having carried out “an investment strike” of national industry and refusing to cooperate with the government. He blamed private companies for participating in speculative pricing, causing mass devaluation to the country’s national currency. 

Nonetheless, Maduro pledged to take action for 2016 and to create a “productive” economy which provides employment. 

He also appeared to take responsibility for the staggering defeat that his party-movement, the Great Patriotic Pole, suffered at the ballot box in the legislative elections last December 6th. He attributed the loss to an inadequate response to the country’s financial woes. 

“We haven’t been able to put the brakes on the economic war… A large part of the people are expecting much more from us,” he stated. 

Just hours before, the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) released official figures for the first time in months confirming that the country’s inflation rate had soared to 141% in September 2015 while its GDP had dropped 7.1%.

As a partial response, Maduro confirmed that his government would raise the domestic selling price of petrol for the first time since the Chavista government came to power in 1999. 

Oil is infamously dirt cheap in Venezuela, where government subsidies make it so that filling up a regular tank of gas costs less than 2 cents. 

In other comments, Maduro promised to keep investing in the government’s socialist infrastructure known as the missions - in particular health, education and housing. 

An “economic emergency” decree proposed last Friday included a bid for Maduro to be granted the necessary executive powers to take a series of actions related to the economy - including investing more money in public services to safeguard them from currency devaluation. 

But the future of the decree looks uncertain, as it will have to be passed by the now majority opposition controlled National Assembly who look likely to reject the measure. 

The president also went on to reiterate his acceptance of the opposition’s legislative victory, but chided their behaviour and proposed policies to date.

Laying down the gauntlet to the opposition bloc, who last week expressed their intention to privatise the more than 1 million social houses built by the revolution in the past three years, Maduro told legislators they would “have to overthrow” him before they privatised the government’s housing mission. 

He retaliated that his administration would attempt to build an additional 3 million public homes for 2016. 

He also rejected opposition calls for an amnesty law for jailed rightwing political leader, Leopoldo Lopez, and other violent protesters currently behind bars for their role in the 2014 barricades or guarimbas in which at least 43 people were killed. 

Maduro argued that any law to acquit those responsible represented clemency for the perpetrators of violent crimes.

“It would be hammering a nail into the peace of the country,” he stated, and called for the creation of a “National Justice Commission” for victims’ families. 

The head of state also officially protested against the new National Assembly president, Ramos Allup’s, removal of portraits of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan independent hero, Simon Bolivar, from the National Assembly chambers. He demanded “respect” for both historical figures. 

“I don’t think there is a single Venezuelan who rejects the legacy of Simon Bolivar… He is a sacred point of convergence,” he stated. 

He also confirmed that the nation’s borders with Colombia, closed in 2015, will not re-open in 2016 until the security of the country is reestablished.