Mérida, December 13th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Emboldened by 267.5 tons of international humanitarian aid, the Venezuelan government intensified its effort to house, feed, provide health care to, and economically revitalize communities ravaged by recent torrential rains and floods.
Following a meeting of the presidential commission for flood relief, Vice President Elías Jaua said the government has received assistance from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland, Belarus, Nicaragua, and Portugal, and that a shipment from Italy is expected in the coming days.
“These gestures are invaluable and they demonstrate that each day, little by little, we are reviving the spirit of the historical legacy of [South American independence hero] Simon Bolivar, coming together again as united brothers and sisters in good and bad times,” said Jaua on Sunday.
The Venezuelan government, led by President Hugo Chavez, is a strong proponent of Latin American integration in accordance with “Bolivarian” values of solidarity and share progress. It also advocates a “multi-polar world” independent from domination by the United States or any other superpower.
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, an ally of President Chavez, plans to visit Venezuela and neighboring Colombia this week to help coordinate flood relief efforts, according to an official statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Ecuador has donated nine tons of food, 400 mattresses, 400 blankets, 20 tents, and 25 water storage tanks to Venezuela so far, according to the Ecuadoran government.
“Socialist Solidarity Bonuses” for Flood Victims
On Sunday, the state-owned Bank of Venezuela gave a total of 2,992 debit cards charged with a “socialist solidarity bonus” of 1,224 bolivars (US $285) to families in 32 shelters around the capital city where flood victims are being housed. The bonus is equivalent to one month of the national minimum wage.
The bank, which was nationalized in 2009, has produced 8,723 bonus debit cards so far, and bank employees intend to work overtime to produce a total of 20,000 to be handed out to flood victims on December 24th, according to Humberto Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s top official in charge of the public banking sector.
Land Expropriations in Flood-Affected Areas
In order to provide relief for rural communities that lost their crops in the floods, the government will nationalize a total of 20,200 hectares (49,894 acres) in the states of Mérida, Trujillo, and Zulia, according to Agriculture and Land Minister Juan Carlos Loyo.
President Chavez approved an emergency investment of 350 million bolivars (US $81.4 million) to re-build rural infrastructure and revive agricultural production in the region, and the government will cancel any debts owed to state institutions by the region’s producers, Loyo said on Sunday.
The fertile areas south of Lake Maracaibo were among the most devastated by the recent rains. Loyo, who is now stationed in the area, said damage to cattle ranches could potentially cause the loss of 10% of the region’s beef and dairy production. As many as 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) of plantain and banana plantations – responsible for 40% of the nation’s production of this food staple – were affected by the flooding, Loyo said.
Loyo also denounced the unequal distribution of land that persists in the region, with almost 40% of the land owned by four percent of the population. South of Lake Maracaibo is “one of the zones where there is the most evidence of the inequality of the obsolete and predatory capitalist system,” the minister said.
“The only way for us to help this population is for the revolution to recuperate those latifundios [large, privately-owned estates],” Loyo told reporters after visiting shelters in the area. “The solution lies in solving the problem of structural poverty,” he added.
The government has distributed 136 tons of food and set up 110 shelters for approximately 10,500 people displaced by the rains that swept through the area south of Lake Maracaibo more than a week ago. Classes in public schools were cancelled in order to provide temporary space to house flood victims.
The armed forces, local communal council members, and government functionaries have staffed the shelters, carried out a census of the affected populations, and helped to distribute aid. Minister Loyo said the government has 216 more tons of food ready to be distributed in the coming weeks.
The national office dedicated to identification and migration services, SAIME, has set up mobile offices in the refugee shelters to procure new identity cards to people who lost their cards in the flooding.
Also, Cuban doctors who perform international service in free public health clinics in Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods have been mobilized to attend to flood victims in the shelters.
Environment Minister Alejandro Hitcher, Transportation and Communications Minister Francisco Garcés, Housing Minister Ricardo Molina, and Women’s Minister Nancy Pérez are also expected to visit the zone to help coordinate relief efforts in the coming days.
President Chávez announced on Friday that he would ask the National Assembly to grant him temporary authority to pass laws by decree in order to further attend to flood victims.
National Assembly Legislator Mario Isea of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which holds a super majority in the National Assembly until the new National Assembly members take office on January 5, said he expected the so-called “enabling law” to pass to permit Chavez to decree laws for emergency housing, public credits to food producers, and infrastructure repair, among other measures needed to respond to the flooding.
“One of the premises of the humanist policies of the Bolivarian government is to come to the aid of the Venezuelans in emergency situations,” said Isea.
While drizzly gray skies continue to appear over much of Venezuela, it appears the worst of the torrential rains that killed 35 people, destroyed more than 5,000 homes, and displaced as many as 120,000 people in eleven states has finally passed.