Mérida, May 12, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Last weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the national social programs known as “missions” in Venezuela, created by the administration of President Hugo Chávez.
The 25 missions that have been created over the past five years are “a true blessing from heaven for the poor, for the people of Venezuela” Chávez declared on his weekly Sunday talk show Aló Presidente. “Now, we are re-energizing.”
During his TV program, Chávez celebrated the anniversary by touring the newly remodeled South Maracaibo Outpatient Clinic. The renovation was made possible by a joint investment of 20.2 million bolivars ($9.4 million) by the Venezuelan Social Security Institute (IVSS) with support from the Barrio Adentro Mission, and the Venezuelan Health Ministry, Chávez explained.
The president also inaugurated a new Integral Diagnostic Center (CDI) on Sunday, part of the second stage of the Barrio Adentro Mission, in which Cuban and Venezuelan doctors provide free health care in clinics located in poor communities. The second level clinics include hospital services, laboratory testing, endoscopy, physical therapy and rehabilitation, and ultrasound, among other services.
Since 1998, when there existed 4,800 health clinics in Venezuela, the Barrio Adentro Mission has created 6,569 new basic health clinics and 922 CDIs and advanced medical technology clinics in Venezuela, according to the Venezuelan Health Minister, Jesús Mantilla. The minister boasted that “the Bolivarian government has assured the health of every citizen who inhabits Venezuelan territory.”
Wishing a happy Mother’s Day to all “mothers of the Fatherland, of the People,” President Chávez also announced the expansion of the Mothers of the Neighborhood Mission, which will incorporate 30,000 new mothers. This will increase the total number of beneficiaries of the anti-poverty mission to 100,000.
Mothers of the Neighborhood, which was recently ascribed to Venezuela’s new and first-ever Ministry of Women’s Affairs, is “like a bridge between a sub-world of misery and the world of life,” Chávez explained. The mission provides low-income mothers with an initial monthly stipend equivalent to 80% of the minimum wage. This is followed by a grant to help the women start micro-enterprises that exercise their skills and talents in their local community.
The “ideal is that the women build their capacities, receive credits and then, when they are producing, other women will be able to enter the mission,” the president said Sunday.
Turning his attention to food security, Chávez announced that the Mercal Mission of subsidized food now sells nearly 5,000 metric tons of food per day and serves 11 million Venezuelans from the middle and lower classes.
Venezuelan Food Minister Félix Osorio, who accompanied the president on a tour of Maracaibo’s Mercal markets on Sunday, confirmed that the total Mercal subsidy for this year is 2.4 billion bolivars ($1.1 billion).
Osorio also assured that Mercal will continue to sell basic food items at less than half of the regulated price, even though regulated food prices have been rising due to international food price inflation and increased domestic demand.
On the fifth anniversary of its founding, the Mercal Mission, a
federal chain of subsidized food markets, will keep its prices at least
50% below official prices, which are rising in step with international
price inflation detailed above.
To lessen reliance on imports, the Food Ministry’s goal is that Mercal will obtain 60% of its food from the national market and count on a 60% food reserve by the end of this year. Last December, Mercal bought 45% of its food from the national market, but since April it has obtained 57% domestically. The mission’s food reserve is practically non-existent at the moment because the demand hike has heavily outweighed the supply, Osorio explained.
Price speculation and food hoarding are also obstacles created chiefly by private companies and the “Empire,” Chávez said. These entities leave people in hunger, he said, while the Venezuelan government is “adamant that the people are well-fed, and we are achieving this… that the people may have the security of good, cheap food for all.”
The toll-free service line of the National Consumer Defense Institute (INDECU) received 7,162 accusations of price speculation and hoarding of regulated food items in the first quarter of 2008, according to INDECU President Eduardo Samán, who accused opposition media outlets of waging a “media campaign” to generate anxiety regarding the artificial food scarcity.
Last weekend INDECU seized 1.5 tons of Mercal products that were hoarded in a Syrian-Venezuelan club and temporarily closed down and fined four food sellers confirmed to have been speculating with prices. INDECU also launched operations in three new municipalities and began inspections of a tomato processing plant owned by Polar Foods, Venezuela’s largest food producer, and the Tacarigua sugar refinery after workers denounced that sugar and tomato sauce had been hoarded for months.
In Carabobo state, where state Mercal coordinator Chrisandy Isambret Atencio was detained in late March on charges of corruption in the administration of the mission, INDECU formed a brigade of 300 students from local universities to monitor speculation and hoarding.
The Mercal Mission has taken on a mobile form recently, mounting day-long street markets in the local communities that are most in need. Sunday, these small-scale “Mercalitos” sold 276 tons of food in 13 states across Venezuela, according to the Bolivarian News Agency.
Meanwhile, the Mission Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, named in honor of the legendary “People’s Doctor,” recently initiated a nation-wide census of people with disabilities. So far, the mission has interviewed 873,300 people with disabilities five states of Venezuela, Chávez announced Saturday.