Caracas, January 11, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) – President Chavez concluded his annual report to Venezuela's National Assembly with a call for 2008 to be a year of "solutions" to the persistent everyday problems of Venezuelans, such as crime, food shortages, corruption, and bureaucracy.
Chavez's accounting of the previous year started out with a number of reflections on the recently concluded release of hostages held by Colombia's FARC guerilla group. According to Chavez, he is working on "a formula for the liberation of more hostages" as part of an overall effort to help achieve peace in Colombia.
While discussing Colombia he also issued a forceful call to the Colombian government and to other governments in the region to recognize both of the country's guerilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) as insurgent groups and not as terrorist groups.
"They are not terrorist groups, but armies that occupy territory in Colombia, that have a political project that must be respected," said Chavez.
With this statement Chavez broke protocol that he maintained a long time, to not issue a declaration on how his government would classify the Colombia's rebel groups.
Chavez then proceeded to review the positive developments in Venezuela during 2007 and particularly highlighted the 2007 Latinobarometro survey, which asked Latin Americans a wide variety of questions about how they feel their democracies and economies are doing. In almost all categories Venezuela is at the number one or two position with regard to its population's satisfaction. For example, 52% of Venezuelans say their economic situation is going is "good" or "very good," more than any other Latin American country.
Part of the reason for the high level of satisfaction, explained Chavez, is that Venezuela's economy has undergone its longest period of economic growth in a generation. Over the past four years, said Chavez, the economy has grown an average of 11.8% per year.
The only dark cloud on the economic horizon was inflation, which had reached 22.5% in 2007 and averaged 19.6% for his entire presidency. Chavez pointed out, though, that this annual average inflation rate was still less than half the annual average inflation rate for the previous two presidencies. During the presidency of Carlos Andres Perez (1989-1993) inflation averaged 45.3% and during the presidency of Rafael Caldera (1994-1998) it averaged 59.4%. Also, in contrast to earlier presidencies, the minimum wage has increased faster than inflation, so that the take-home pay of most Venezuelans is higher today than it was when he took office.
Also, Chavez highlighted that unemployment hit its lowest level ever since unemployment records have been kept, dropping down to 6.3% in November 2007. This is 2.5 points lower than in November 2006.
A key achievement that Chavez highlighted was the increase of Venezuela's official oil reserves, which went up by nearly 20 billion barrels in 2007. Comparing Venezuela's known oil reserves to previous periods, Chavez pointed out that Venezuela had only 26 billion barrels in 1987 and 76 billion when he came into office in 1999. As of 2007, though, Venezuela has about 100 billion barrels of officially recognized recoverable oil. The project to certify Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt is to double the official oil reserves to 200 billion by the end of 2008 and triple them to 313 billion by the end of 2009. This would give Venezuela the largest oil reserves in the world, with slightly more than Saudi Arabia's reserves.
Turning to Venezuela's Church authorities, Chavez severely criticized Cardinal Jorge Urosa, who had asked Chavez to broaden the amnesty he had declared on New Year's Eve, which released many participants in the 2002 coup attempt from prosecution. Chavez said that Cardinal Urosa wanted the amnesty to include those accused of violating human rights, to which he said, "I cannot give amnesty to those being processed crimes against human rights. I would have to be imprisoned if I did that."
He then turned to the Pope's ambassador, who was in the audience, saying that the Nuncio's residence is harboring a criminal, referring to Nixon Moreno, whom the police have accused of raping a woman. Moreno, though, says he is innocent and is being prosecuted for his opposition political activism, as a student leader in the state of Merida.
Reaffirming his belief in Christ, Chavez said that the reign of Christ must be here on earth, "in equality and in socialism," not in the sky/heaven. Also, the upper church hierarchy is not the voice of God, but "the people are the voice of God."
Chavez then addressed the opposition in general, saying that if they do not organize a recall referendum against him in 2010, he would do so himself. Along with such a referendum, he would then also propose a "small" amendment to the constitution, to eliminate the two-term limit on the presidency. "I believe this is necessary," he said, "with all the faults this might have."
In an unusual turn for someone who rarely speaks from a written text, Chavez concluded his annual report by reading something he wrote the night before. Here he particularly referred to the errors and failures of the past year, saying that he realizes that there is an "ill feeling [among the people] due to the contradiction between the words of the leader and the reality." The Bolivarian Revolution must recover trust that has been lost.
There are many serious problems "that continue without resolution," said Chavez. In particular, these problems involve those of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and corruption. He then asked, "Why has a revolutionary government not been able to resolve the terrible situation of the prisons? Why does crime continue? Why does smuggling continue? … Why haven't we been able to put an end to corruption? … Every day we must ask ourselves these questions."
"This must be the year of solution to the everyday problems" of insecurity, corruption, bureaucracy, and shortages, concluded Chavez.