Venezuela Announces New Mission: Mothers of the Barrio

Yesterday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced “Madres del Barrio,” a social mission aimed at lowering drug use among young people, fighting unintended pregnancies in girls, and aiding mothers who live in extreme poverty.

Caracas, Venezuela, March 24, 2006—In a country where abortion is illegal, and poverty and teen pregnancy rates are high, the government’s announcement of the beginning of a new social program, Misión Madres del Barrio (Mission Mothers of the Shanty towns) is welcome news.

“This is a very important mission…and the faster they start it, the better,” said Delvalle Rodriguez, a homemaker and mother of seven, who lives in La Bandera, a barrio in the south of Caracas.    

The mission will have three focuses: lowering drug use among young people, fighting unintended pregnancies in girls, and offering aid to mothers who live in extreme poverty.  

All were critical issues to the neighborhood, according to Rodriguez and her granddaughter’s caretaker Ludíz Leiva, herself a homemaker and mother of two. “There are lots of girls who get pregnant…many many girls…and drugs, well, that is sold everywhere. You see it everywhere. Where you go, where you walk, where you pass through, they sell it. They’re lost,” said Rodriguez and Leiva, finishing each others sentences. 

The other element of the mission directed specifically at mothers. “With this mission, we want to give a hand to mothers who are in need, and homemakers without a fixed income,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, when he announced the program yesterday in a barrio in the state of Vargas.  

According to Chávez, the government will pay 80 percent of minimum wage, or about $180 per month to mothers who live in extreme poverty.  

Chávez originally made the announcement that 200,000 low-income homemakers would receive a salary by this summer last month, saying that their economic contributions to the country should be recognized. “These women [do] so much work ironing, washing, making food, cleaning and raising their kids,” he said. 

“It’s a good idea because sometimes homemakers don’t have a husband and others have them, but [the husbands] don’t have work. It’s sad. Living around here is sad. I have a husband, but my husband doesn’t have a job…So this seems good to me,” said Rodriguez, who was holding her two year old granddaughter on her lap.  

But the announcement of the program was met with skepticism as well. “Sometimes these things start out well, and then end badly. And that’s worse [than if there had been no program at all],” Leiva said. 

Since several million women in Venezuela live in poverty, only a relatively small percentage of the country’s low-income homemakers will receive a salary, a prospect which left the women concerned about whether or not they’d be able to access the program.  

“[This] needs to be a program for the people who need it the most, because this [could be like] when they were giving out food here,” said Rodriguez. She said she had received the short end of the stick when the government had been giving out food in the area, only receiving free food once, while others received it over a dozen times. She blamed those managing the programs for the problems. “The president wants for the programs to be done well in this area, what happens is that people running them don’t know how to do things well…There’s no control.” 

Since the end of 2003, Venezuela has implemented dozens of social missions aimed at alleviating poverty through expanding access to education, health care, low cost food, and cultural activities. These missions are generally credited with being a contributing factor in the popularity of the president, which exceeded 70 percent in a recent poll.