CONINDUSTRIA President Luigi Pisella explained over the weekend that long queues at the pumps, as well as elevated black market fuel prices, are “problems which bring consequences, not just in the effectiveness of industry but also in terms of rising costs (…) These losses are definitely being absorbed by industry.”
His comments come on the back of a first-trimester CONINDUSTRIA report published in June. According to the association, the country’s industrial output has reduced from 68% of its installed capacity in 2012 to 18% currently. Some 76% of industrialists asked claimed that fuel shortages are the main cause of the problems experienced by industry currently, while others mentioned the “precariousness” of public services such as electricity and water, excessively high tax rates, and a fall in national demand.
Fuel shortages have worsened in recent months after the US closed a sanction loophole allowing oil-for-diesel swaps last October. Pre-existing measures continue to block the country off from vital imports, with a crippling embargo on the oil sector leading both gasoline and diesel outputs to drop considerably in the past few years.
As a result, commercial freighting and public transport have been severely affected, with diesel users joining gasoline vehicles in day-long queues to acquire limited fuel quotas, often as low as 20 or 30 liters a week.
Washington’s sanctions have been amply criticized by the international community, including by the United Nations which recently described them as “illegal” and “devastating.”
Government makes “history” with FEDECÁMARAS visit
Last Tuesday, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez made “history” by accepting an invitation to participate in the 77th Annual Assembly of the FEDECÁMARAS Chamber of Business and Commerce.
She was the first government representative to participate in the business association’s annual meeting in over twenty years. Rodríguez was accompanied by ministers Eneida Laya (commerce) and José Rivero (labor), as well as Anti-blockade Vice Minister William Castillo and a handful of lawmakers. Also present was Caracas’ auxiliary bishop Ricardo Barreto who read a letter from the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The Maduro government has increasingly looked to build common ground with the private sector in calling for the blockade to be lifted. A number of anti-worker government measures affecting areas such as collective bargaining, wages, and social security, as well as business-friendly legislation such as the Anti-blockade Law and the soon-to-be approved Special Economic Zones Law, both of which were applauded by business guilds, have also strengthened relations between the executive and private enterprises.
FEDECÁMARAS has fiercely opposed the Bolivarian governments since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, playing a leading role in the 2002 coup d’état and subsequent oil lockout. After being elected in 2013, the Maduro administration likewise accused it of “economic sabotage” by reportedly coordinating hoarding of basic goods, extraction smuggling, induced inflation, and other elements of the so-called “economic war.”
In her address to FEDECÁMARAS, Rodríguez stressed the negative impact of the US unilateral coercive measures on the Venezuelan economy, as well as the government’s new commitment to work with the private sector.
“The participation of private economic sectors in developing Venezuela’s high productive potential is the path forward,” she stated. The vice president also touted the establishment of workgroups with private sector representatives to assist in “elaborating policies which may develop and advance national production.”
For his part, newly-named FEDECÁMARAS President Ricardo Cusanno struck a similarly conciliatory tone, telling delegates that “I want us to cut the tension [with the government]. We want to construct solutions, we want to come together.”
The presence of Maduro’s number two at the assembly, however, provoked a chorus of criticism on social media.
Radical right-wing politicians Carlos Vecchio and Andrés Velásquez both described the guild’s invitation to the Chavista vice president as “shameful,” while former FEDECÁMARAS presidents and a range of other opposition politicians including María Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma lined up to accuse the current organization’s leadership of betraying the guild’s long-standing opposition to the Bolivarian movement.
The visit additionally drew criticism from many on the left, with the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR) claiming that it further demonstrated the “anti-worker pact” between the Maduro administration and the business community.
For his part, President Nicolás Maduro described Rodríguez’s intervention as “tremendously good” in an interview with TeleSUR on Sunday.
Talking to the outlet’s director Patricia Villegas, he claimed that Venezuela’s industrial and productive output is increasing, particularly in the oil and food sectors. According to the Venezuelan mandatary, domestic food production now accounts for 80% of national demand.
The president went on to defend the government’s policies and legislation, arguing that it is necessary to hide details of trade deals from the public arena to avoid “brutal imperialist persecution” against those working with Caracas.