Caracas, January 16, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made his annual address to the nation this past Sunday, highlighting that his administration had managed to advance in social welfare provision despite facing an acute economic crisis.
In a speech broadcast on public television, Maduro explained that 2016 had seen his government increase social spending to 73 percent of the national budget and build 370,000 homes as part of Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission, while unemployment levels averaged at 4.5 percent.
Looking to 2017, the president announced that his government would launch a public works project in a bid to create 85,000 jobs, as well as work to improve the country’s health service, access to medicines and social missions for the country's poorest families.
In terms of Venezuela’s food supply, Maduro informed the public that a new network of CLAP (Local Food Provision and Production Committees) shops would be opened up in former MERCAL and PDVAL establishments. The new supermarkets will also be set up along the border with Colombia for sales in pesos in a bid to combat cross-border smuggling. Venezuelan FOREX currency houses will likewise begin to operate along the border as of January 16, confirmed the president.
On the economic front, the head of state extended the circulation deadline for the country’s 100 bolivar bills from January 20 until February 20 as his government restructures the currency system. Modifications were also made to tax collection and citizens who earned less than 1.62 million bolivars per year will not have to pay taxes accrued for 2016. Business conglomerates earning more than 2 billion bolivars will have to pay tax amounting to 1% of their total assets, according to new rules.
Maduro also vowed to continue to work with other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to stabilize the global price of oil in the wake of a December agreement that saw all 14 member-states and 11 non-members agree to cut output by 1.8 million barrels per day
The head of state additionally anounced the renewal of his economic emergency decree powers into the coming year. The measure allows the executive to make far-reaching economic reforms to confront the national economic crisis without approval from the legislative branch.
Maduro also revealed that the controversial “Operation Liberate the People” (OLP) state security mission would be relaunched from a more “humanitarian” perspective in a bid to decrease crime rates – one of the primary concerns of the Venezuelan electorate.
Addressing geopolitical considerations, the president repudiated outgoing US President Barack Obama’s renewal of an executive decree that brands Venezuela a threat to US security. He also lamented the rise to power of several right-wing government across the continent over the past year. Nonetheless, Maduro expressed his faith in the possibility that a new wave of left-wing governments would once again take power in the region.
Maduro’s Sunday address to the nation marked a “historical legal precedent” for the country, according to Supreme Court President Gladys Gutierrez, given the fact that it was the first time in the country's history that the executive presented the speech to the Supreme Court as opposed to the National Assembly.
Gutierrez explained that Maduro has been given the green light to present his annual address to the TSJ after the body declared congress to be “unconstitutional and thus null and lacking in validity”.
Venezuela’s opposition controlled National Assembly breached a Supreme Court order to suspend three deputies accused of vote-rigging in Amazonas state earlier in 2016. The violation led to a stand-off between the executive and legislative branch of government and resulted in the TSJ declaring the National Assembly to be in contempt of court.