Merida, July 8th 2011 (Venezuelanalaysis.com) – In his first Council of Ministers meeting since returning from Cuba, yesterday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced a 30% wage increase for doctors working in the country’s public health sector, the formal appointment of the country’s first Minister of Youth and Students, and the ratification of all acting ministers in their positions.
According to Chavez, the wage increase was made possible by recently enacted legislation that allows the Venezuelan state to increase windfall oil taxes as international oil prices rise.
Health is Wealth
Speaking on national television from the Miraflores Presidential Palace, Chavez said that his cabinet had decided on the 30% wage increase for public sector doctors after having reviewed a number of wage increase proposals presented by different medical associations. Chavez said that he had chosen between “exaggerated” proposals and others that were “more rational.”
Details on the wage increase, which went into effect 1 June 2011, were published by state television, VTV, today.
Resident doctors, with their usual night shifts and other responsibilities, will have wages rise from the current 5,278 to 7,100 BsF per month (1,227 to 1,651 USD). Category I Specialist Doctors, with the same rights and responsibilities as they have now, will go from 7,100 to 9,400 BsF per month (1,652 to 2,186 USD) while Category II Specialist Doctors will go from 8,065 to 10,645 BsF per month (1,876 to 2,476 USD). Hospital Director Doctors will go from 8,700 to 11,600 BsF per month (2,023 to 2,698 USD).
After announcing the scaled increase, Chavez affirmed the “salary increase is an act of justice for our doctors, and now, let’s continue working with more heart and more soul, with greater dedication, for the health of the Venezuelan people.”
In recent months doctors linked to the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV) have been pressuring the national government for a wage increase that would make the minimum and maximum wage earned 9,500 14,820 BsF per month (2,209 and 3,446 USD), respectively. The FMV stepped up its actions in recent days, with ongoing protests and work stoppages at public hospitals across the country since June 30th.
In response to Chavez’s announcement, FMV vice president Dianela Parra said that the president was “autocratic” and that protests would continue until their demands are met. In 2003, the FMV has asked courts to bar Cuban doctors from practicing in Venezuela.
According to Chavez, the BsF $3.3 billion (USD $767 million) allotted to fund the wage increase comes from windfall oil taxes that Venezuela has secured thanks to the Special Contribution Law for the Extraordinary and Exorbitant Prices of Oil enacted on 18 April 2011.
In an interview with TeleSur earlier this year, Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez affirmed that the new windfall oil tax law, “seeks to maintain and have strict control over natural resources in order to direct the profits to the Venezuelan people”. He said the law is “about making sure that these resources belong to all Venezuelans. In short, a product of the exploitation of their natural resource will be converted into houses, into agriculture, into work, infrastructure, health, education and social inclusion.”
As part of Thursday’s Council of Ministers meeting, Chavez also announced the approval of an additional BsF 1.7 billion (395.3 million USD) for Venezuela’s new housing mission and achieve the goal of building 150,000 homes by the end of the year.
Same Cabinet, New Ministry
Responding to rumors in both the national and international press that he intended to make changes to his cabinet, Chavez publicly confirmed his plans to keep his entire cabinet as is and announced the incorporation of Mari Hernandez as Venezuela’s first Minister of Youth and Students.
Chavez explained how his government had consulted with members of Venezuela’s organized youth before choosing Hernandez for the post. While “the youth lead themselves” said Chavez, “the creation of this new ministry [of youth and students] will move things even further along.”
Hernandez is a journalist and was president of VTV from 1999 to 2001 and in 2007 she was minister of communication and information.
Referring to the rumors of a possible reshuffle in his cabinet, Chavez said he was aware of the “many rumors, trying to destabilize, trying to sabotage," and that he rejected suggestions by some in the press "that there was a division in the government (during his month-long stay in Cuba), and that the long knives were drawn" between the different ministers interested in the presidency if Chavez were to be become unable to serve.
"Despite the rumors, I ratify Vice-president Elias Jaua," Chavez said. "There will be no pact with the bourgeoisie. We're going to accelerate the pace of economic, military and social transformations."
Elias Jaua, Chavez’s Executive Vice President, would have legally been designated president of Venezuela if, after Chavez underwent emergency surgery in Cuba last month, he was left unable to serve out the rest of his term in office. At that time, the Venezuelan National Assembly granted Chavez the first of two possible 90-day authorizations to govern from abroad. In accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, after a total 180 days, or if for any other reason Chavez was physically unable to govern due to his health condition, the presidency would be handed over to Jaua.
Along with Jaua, Chavez ratified his entire cabinet, including Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa and chief of military intelligence Hugo Carvajal.