Santa Elena de Uairén, April 15th 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)– Yesterday, April 14th, marked the one year anniversary of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s election as president. Today the country honored the 12 victims of violent clashes that ensued when opposing candidate, Henrique Capriles, refused to recognize the results and called upon his supporters to protest against alleged fraud.
Maduro recalled the election yesterday, saying, “I campaigned and I met with the people who were despondent with sadness over the death of [Chávez]…. I made a great effort because I had never been a candidate before, had never run in a campaign … and I was suddenly at the forefront of a Revolution in a very sensitive period as a presidential candidate, [and later] as a president in office.”
In a talk held last Thursday at Miraflores presidential palace, pro-government politicians called upon Miranda state governor Capriles to recognize what they consider to be a lead role in last year’s violence.
As he addressed his supporters the evening after his defeat, Capriles was reported to have said, “Take all your anger out, let it all out and let it be heard around the world.”
In response to the continued accusations Thursday, he asserted, “When I said that, it was so the people would release their frustration and fury on cooking pots,” he said, referring to the protest strategy known as cacerolazo, or the banging of pots and pans.
Caracas mayor Jorge Rodriguez felt the governor’s refusal to accept the election results was incitement in itself.
“You knew very well in the face of so much tension that it was your job to act responsibly, and you were profoundly irresponsable,” Rodriguez said.
Yesterday, Capriles marked the day in a speech to opposition supporters. “One year later, he said. “What is the balance? Very negative. Today marks one year since we took a great leap, although they did not want to recognize it. A year ago we expressed ourselves in favor of change, which was not able to take place due to institutional control. One year later and here are the results; we are a country with the highest inflation rate in the world, the least security and a very difficult problem of scarcity.”
In the past six months, Maduro has attempted to address these issues, with mixed results.
The Safe Homeland and Intelligent Patrol Plans, implemented by Maduro last year, have seen a 17% decrease in homicides nationwide and a 51% decrease in kidnappings in high-risk areas, according to data from the Ministry of Justice, Peace, and Interior Relations. Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said yesterday, “These statistics do not mean we are satisfied, but they are a good signal that we are headed in the right direction.”
He also noted that of the 20 districts where criminal activity has seen an increase, 7 of them belong to Miranda state, where police work under the jurisdiction of governor Capriles.
As Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BOAML) pointed out in their March 21 report on Venezuela, many prices in the country are determined by the black market rate for the dollar.
Last month, the Maduro administration activated Sicad II, an exchange system meant to invalidate the black market. The system allows the buying and selling of dollars at an average rate of 51 bolivars, which fluctuates with demand. Since its debut, the black market dollar has remained relatively low in comparison to the Sicad rate, currently worth around 65 bolivar. The rate did not rise even as many Venezuelans sought to buy dollars for foreign travel during the Holy Week (Semana Santa) vacation.
The official dollar rate remains at 6.3 bolivars per dollar, for use by public institutions and first necessity imports. This subsidy is expected to protect people from inflation in key areas, such as basic food products, medicine and transportation (petrol).
In another attempt to compensate for inflation, the government increased minimum wage by 59% in the first quarter of 2014.
Many Venezuelans link holiday season to exorbitant prices, far beyond the limits of economic inflation. In an attempt to monitor speculation and in accordance with the December “Fair Price” legislation, the executive attorney of the Superintendence of Fair Prices department, Aimara Diermano, has dispatched 400 administrators to ensure consumer protection during the holidays. She described their mission as to “prevent abuses, unfair conditions, discrimination, or unjustified and capricious pricing” on any goods and services. Hotlines have been set up so that people may report offenses of this nature.
Since Spring vacation began on Saturday, almost 120,000 vacationers have traveled by air, indicating a 27% increase from last year’s numbers. Another 49,000 traveled by boat, 19,000 of whom debuted the new public ferry, Conferry. Official reports point to a 75% increase in boat travel than last year, presumably owing to vast investments Maduro has directed towards the expansion of maritime transport.
The government Plan of Security and Prevention for Holy Week 2014 includes widespread public service announcements regarding highway safety, and a national law preventing liquor stores from selling alcohol during certain hours of the holiday week. Extra police units and traffic patrols have been activated for increased safety.
40% of food products subsidized by the government for low-income families are estimated to leave the country over the land borders of Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana, to be sold for a profit. Increased border security has led to the weekly confiscation and redistribution of thousands of tons of goods being smuggled.
A non-mandatory government food card, released last month, is the latest in an official plan to combat scarcity. The “Ensured Supply Card,” is meant to give discounts to cardholders and provide benefits for member supermarkets. In theory, it will allow the government to better monitor the stocking, hoarding, and reselling of products. So far the service has at least a quarter million members.
Maduro has also reached out to elite businessmen who he had accused of hoarding products in order to discredit him. During last year’s electoral campaign, at least 40,000 tons of food were found hoarded in warehouses across the country.
According to official data, in 2013, 64.1% of the government’s income was distributed to development programs aimed at providing public aid. According to the President, this was an increase of 1.9 percentage points over the 62% invested in 2012.
The Bolivarian government has been known to provide social services through “missions” that often depend equally on government resources and grassroots organization to meet regional needs. Over the past year, Maduro has added seven missions to the list, which now totals 35. Some of the latest are meant to provide credits for public transport companies, monitor/prevent the misuse of public spending, and establish low-cost healthcare for pets and free sterilization to reduce street animals.
Bookended by conflict, the Venezuelan president’s first year in office has been closely scrutinized by international media, but polls show he has not lost support from his base. According to data collected by the private polling firm Hinterlaces, 51% of Venezuelans approve of the Maduro administration and 52% believe it has the capacity to resolve the country’s main problem, which was cited as the economy.