Mérida, 28th October 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has created a new government agency to coordinate social programs and further reduce poverty.
The new Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness will coordinate the government’s social programs, known as “missions”, to improve their reach and efficiency in order to move towards social goals such as the elimination of poverty.
The vice ministry will work in particular with missions addressing the needs of the disabled, the homeless, families living in extreme poverty, old-age pensioners, and those from deprived backgrounds requiring special medical attention.
“All these missions are part of the great system of socialist revolution that transcends the criteria of the welfare state,” declared President Maduro last Thursday while announcing the vice ministry’s creation.
The Venezuelan head of state appointed paediatrician and former lawmaker Rafael Rios to preside over the new body, describing him as an “expert in social security”. Maduro also designated heads of the different social programs who must report directly to the presidency on improvements and obstacles in their respective missions.
The name of the new vice ministry, “supreme social happiness”, is a phrase introduced into modern Venezuelan political discourse by late President Hugo Chavez. It refers to the effort to create the greatest level of social wellbeing possible through reducing poverty and exclusion while meeting the population’s needs in areas such as education, health and culture.
The phrase is used to evoke the political vision of Venezuela’s 19th century founder, Simon Bolivar, who argued that, “The most perfect system of government is that which produces the greatest possible sum of happiness, the greatest sum of social security and the greatest sum of political stability”.
The pursuit of “social happiness” also forms part of the government’s plan for social and economic development from 2013 – 2019, including concrete goals such as the eradication of poverty and hunger.
Since the launch of the first mission programs a decade ago, these have formed an important role in the improvement of social and health indicators in the country such as the reduction of poverty from 50.4% in 1998 to 25.4% in 2012.
International media criticisms
International media outlets have mocked the creation of the Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness, focusing on the body’s name and contrasting this with Venezuela’s current economic problems.
While the economy has continued to gradually grow this year and unemployment remains low, the country is currently experiencing annual inflation of nearly 50%, shortages in a few basic goods and foodstuffs, and a dollar worth seven times more on the black market than the government’s official rate.
The government argues that these problems are due to an “economic war” being waged by wealthy allies of the conservative opposition, while the opposition blames “government mismanagement” for the situation.
Fox News covered the new vice ministry’s creation with the headline “No Joke: Venezuela President Creates A New Cabinet Post Called Ministry Of Supreme Happiness” and claimed that citizens met the news with “outrage, sarcasm and utter disbelief”.
International press widely re-posted an Associated Press article with headlines such as “Venezuela Fights Shortage Blues with Happiness Ministry”, which led with the tagline, “At first, many Venezuelans thought it was a joke”.
Reports focused on the views of the country’s conservative opposition and sceptical citizens, including pro-opposition former TV anchor Leopoldo Castillo’s twitter comment that the move was “shameful” and caused “international ridicule”.
The head of the new vice ministry, Rafael Rios, has since responded to the criticisms, arguing that “What they demonstrate is stupidity and bad intention”.
Speaking to Union Radio, the vice minister argued that the ministry’s name and work “have to do with our historical roots and one of the greatest men in the world, the Liberator Simon Bolivar”.
“This [the concept of social happiness] commits us to our society more, fundamentally with the poor, the excluded, the disabled, [and] those who are in conditions of misery and necessity,” the official said.
Rios added that with the work of the ministry, “We’ll make the effort, through the structure and dynamic of the state, to influence all factors which perturb the possibility of the people being happy”.