Pays-de-Gex, France, October 15, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro held a televised meeting with the so-called Constituent Workers’ Congress, approving measures aimed at improving the country’s struggling economy.
Oswaldo Vera, general coordinator of the Workers’ Congress, reiterated that the proposals brought forward had been the subject of intense discussion among representatives of the working class. He also denounced what he termed “sabotage” from the private sector, including the shuttering of companies, stressing that greater worker participation, particularly through the Workers’ Councils, was crucial for the success of the government’s recent economic measures.
An economic reform package was implemented by the Venezuelan executive on August 20, which included a monetary reconversion, pegging the currency to the Petro cryptocurrency, a devaluation of the exchange rate, overhauled exchange controls, and a 3,000% minimum wage hike. These were followed by further agreements with private entrepreneurs to fix prices of food and personal hygiene products.
In his address to the workers, Maduro railed against the “war” he said is being waged by large private sector interests to overthrow his government. Private businesspeople, Maduro stressed, had been given credit, raw materials, and even have the government paying their workers’ salaries during a three month adjustment period, and thus had no excuse to boycott production or increase prices.
“I’m paying their salaries, I’m giving them bolivars and dollars, I’m spoon-feeding them the raw materials. What more do they want? Are these real businessmen?” he asked the congress.
The Venezuelan president called on the working class and the people to ensure that agreed prices were being respected. Additionally, Maduro stated that, despite his willingness to dialogue with the private sector, there were laws in place for abandoned companies to be taken over by the workers.
One significant outcome of this meeting was the president’s approval of six “micro-missions,” which he defined as specific tasks to be undertaken by so-called Socialist Production Operation Brigades (BOPS) to provide a boost to the ailing Venezuelan economy in key sectors.
The first micro-mission has the goal of bringing several oil wells back online in the western state of Zulia, which have been inoperative due to lack of maintenance and investment. The move follows proposals by leading petroleum experts, who have called on the government to prioritize extraction of light crude concentrated in the western fields of Zulia as opposed to the eastern Orinoco Belt's larger reserves of heavy crude, which is more costly to drill for and refine. Due to the combined impact of US-led financial sanctions, under-investment, and mismanagement, Venezuela's oil production has declined from 1.9 million barrels per day to 1.2 million over the past 12 months.
The second micro-mission is also related to the oil industry, taking as its objective the restoration of the Paraguana Refining Complex, in order for the country to be self-sufficient in the production of gasoline and lubricants. The Paraguana refinery, the largest in Venezuela and second largest in the world, was recently the stage for a week-long restoration and stabilization project by a brigade of volunteers. At maximum capacity, the complex can refine up to 940,000 barrels per day.
Maduro additionally approved micro-missions in a variety of other areas, including boosting the production capacity of the iron, steel and aluminium industries in Bolivar State, forging a connection between state oil company PDVSA and state Petrochemical company Pequiven for extraction and distribution of natural gas, producing milk and cereal for a school meal program, and finally the production of personal hygiene and household cleaning items to be distributed through the CLAP (Local Supply and Production Committees) program.
The Venezuelan head of state stressed that he was personally invested in the new programs , giving them “presidential character” and demanding regular updates on their progress. In addition, Maduro also lauded the “socialist management” manual proposed by the workers and urged its implementation in all state enterprises, to correct the poor productivity seen in some of them.
During the congress, Venezuelan Labor Minister Eduardo Pinate praised the workers’ initiative in bringing their proposals to the government and highlighted recent agreements achieved with unions to implement new collective contracts in public companies such as the Caracas metro, the Valencia metro, the railway sector, PDVSA and the basic industries in Guayana.
Despite the wage increases implemented as part of the recent economic measures, protests have gripped the Venezuelan public sector, with workers complaining that wage levels remain insufficient and demanding new salary tables based on skills and experience. However, recent weeks have seen new agreements hammered out between the Labor Ministry and trade unions in several companies.