Venezuela Headlines #99 – 12-Year Bolivarian Anniversary!

12-Year Anniversary of the Bolivarian Process. Venezuelan to Produce Affordable Mobile Phones for the Blind - PSUV Defines New Strategies for 2011-2012 - Chavez Outlines Government’s Achievements in Annual Speech - MetroCable Celebrates 1-Year Anniversary - U.S. Poor to Benefit from 6th Year of Subsidized Venezuelan Heating Oil - SUCRE Currency System - Opposition Requests Intervention from Organization of American States - U.S. Sends Mixed Signals in Ambassador Spat as Congress Vows Harder Line against Venezuela

I.An Assessment of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution at Twelve Years

Venezuelanalysis published an article today from founder, Greg Wilpert, in which he takes a look at the advances, shortcomings and obstacles of the Bolivarian Revolution over these 12 years. In advances, Wilpert writes that Venezuela has democratized the political system, including poor and marginalized sectors of society like never before. It has done the same with it’s economic system, by increasing state control over the economy and by dismantling neo-liberalism in Venezuela. In the social realm, Greater participation, closer government attention to meeting the needs of the poor and a more equal distribution of the country’s wealth have led to a wide variety of improvements in people’s lives. In education, the government helped to triple the rate of university attendance. The Barrio Adentro health mission has provided universal health coverage and increased life-expectancy. The government has steadily increased Social Security coverage, and according to Latinobarometro, over 80% of Venezuelans say that they are satisfied with life, the second highest level in Latin America. Wilpert goes on to write of the regional advances internationally and also gives an analysis of the shortcomings and obstacles of the process, at this important 12-year-anniversary.


II. Venezuelan State to Produce Affordable Mobile Phones for the Blind

Last week, President Hugo Chavez announced that the state-owned telecommunications company Vtelca, will now manufacture a phone for the blind. The new phone’s keys are written in Braille and are much larger. Chavez says the phone is the result of an agreement between Venezuela and China, uses the “latest technology” and will be available “soon”. Vtelca is also the maker of the subsidized and very affordable ‘Vergatario’ cell phone, which was released in 2009.


III. United Socialist Party of Venezuela Defines New Strategies for 2011-2012

A week and a half ago, over a thousand members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela met with President Chavez and decided on five key strategic political themes for the next two years. The first is to move from, quote “political capitalist culture to socialist activism”. The second is to quote, “convert the party machinery into a party-movement at the service of the people’s struggles”. The third is to quote, “Convert the party into a powerful means of outreach, activism and communication”. The fourth is for the PSUV to serve as a “platform of development and strengthening of popular power”. And lastly, for “Patriotic Bicentennial Councils” to be formed in all municipalities, involving members of both the party, and allied parties. These councils will debate and approve a concrete plan towards socialism, and promote the formation of popular struggle circles. Those in attendance at the “National Assembly of Socialists”, as the event was called, also recognized weaknesses in the party such as the quote “bureaucratization, opportunism, and sectarianism.”


IV. Venezuela’s Chavez Outlines Government’s Achievements in Annual Speech

Two weeks ago, Venezuela listened to President Hugo Chavez’s annual state-of-the-union address. The 7-hour speech summed up the government’s setbacks and achievements in 2010, and made projections for this year. Speaking to the legislators of the new National Assembly who were sworn into office in January, Chavez asked them to quote, “maintain dialogue and respect with the people” and said he was happy to see the opposition in parliament again. Over a third of the new National Assembly representatives are members of the opposition. From 2006 till now the opposition was practically not existent in the National Assembly because they had boycotted the 2005 legislative elections. Among the high points of Chavez’s speech, he said that after a two-year recession, there were encouraging signs for this year and a predicted economic growth of 2%. Chavez announced that housing would be a priority in 2011, and that the government would build 150,000 homes this year. He said that in 2010 over a million people were trained in computing in the state-sponsored Internet Infocentros. The “Canaima” plan of providing school children with mini laptops saw nearly 900,000 computers given to first and second grade students. Chavez also announced the approval of a food plan to increase national production.


V. MetroCable Celebrates 1-Year Anniversary

In infrastructure news this month, Venezuela’s innovative MetroCable system celebrated its first anniversary, transporting more than a million people. This unconventional cable-car transportation system to the barrios is the first in the country, and was built by the Chavez administration to attend to poor communities who live in hard to reach neighborhoods situated on Caracas’ mountainous regions.


VI. Venezuela’s Chávez uses Legislative Authority to Help Rural Producers, Launch New Agricultural Mission

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez used his legislative authority to establish the ‘Law of Attention for the Agricultural Sector’ and to create a brand new social mission: Misión Agro-Venezuela. According to Chavez, the objective of the new law is to “attend to the producers, campesinos, and fishermen negatively affected by the torrential downpours that took place at the end of 2010.” The law stipulates, the partial or total forgiveness, of debts accrued by the rural producers most affected by last year’s record-setting rains. According to Chávez, Mission Agro-Venezuela will increase production of staple crops, increase the amount of land under production, and promote and stimulate urban agriculture. The goal for this year is to increase production of basic foods by 30%, with priority given to corn, rice, beans, and vegetables.


VII. President Chavez Uses Legislative Authority to Create “Law for Dignified Refuge” in Venezuela

Two weeks ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez issued a law-decree on the right to dignified housing and promised to address the “rights and justice” of the over 100,000 Venezuelans made homeless during last year’s record-setting rains and floods. According to Chavez, the ‘Law for Dignified Refuge,’ serves to quote, “institutionalize the concept of dignified housing”. As of two weeks ago, 25 dignified “refuges” or shelters for those left homeless by the rains, have been handed over to residents, with a total of 60 expected to be up and running in the coming days.


VIII. U.S. Poor to Benefit from 6th Year of Subsidized Venezuelan Heating Oil

Last week, Venezuela’s state-oil subsidiary, CITGO, announced the start of its sixth year providing subsidized heating oil to low-income residents in the United States. Over 100,000 households across the U.S. should benefit from the program this year, amounting to $60 million dollars worth of savings. Citgo has delivered 170 million gallons of heating fuel since the start of the program in 2005.


IX. Venezuela and Ecuador Consolidate Bilateral Agreements, SUCRE Currency System

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met two weeks ago with the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, to evaluate the progress of their country’s bilateral agreements. They discussed advances on forty projects they are developing jointly. Among the ambitious goals of the meeting was also to increase the use of the Sucre, a regional currency being used in trade between the two countries. According to Radio Mundial, Venezuela recently bought palm oil from Ecuador using the sucre. Venezuela also sold Ecuador 15,000 tones of rice, paid for in Sucres, at a rate of 1.25 to the dollar. The Sucre stands for the Unified System for Regional Compensation, and is also named after Antonio Jose de Sucre, a Latin American independence leader who fought alongside Simón Bolívar. According to Patiño, this year they are hoping to do quote “at least 50% of commercial bi-national trade” in the Sucre.


X. Venezuelan Opposition Requests Intervention from Organization of American States

3 weeks ago, a delegation of the Venezuelan opposition alliance Democratic Table of Unity met with OAS Secretary General José Insulza to discuss what it has called a lack of democracy in Venezuela. The delegation of four opposition leaders met with Insulza in Washington. Opposition legislator Omar Barboza told the press, quote “[We’re here] to request that the Organization of American States intervene in the re-establishment of the Democratic norm in the country”. Opposition legislator to the Latin American Parliament, Timoteo Zambrano, said the purpose of the visit was to start an international campaign around a supposed lack of democracy in Venezuela. The opposition alliance called the enabling law passed last month to permit Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to quickly pass laws in relation to the flooding emergency, quote “unconstitutional”. He also criticized other laws passed by the lame-duck National Assembly last month. The delegation followed comments by OAS Secretary General Insulza criticizing the Venezuelan government. These comments were widely rejected both in Venezuela and abroad.


XII. U.S. Sends Mixed Signals in Ambassador Spat as Congress Vows Harder Line against Venezuela

As the new U.S. Congress comes into office, recent statements by United States officials show that the Obama administration is likely to continue its current policy toward Venezuela in 2011, while the now Republican-dominated House of Representatives will likely take a harder line. Both the State Department and conservative congressional leaders attacked last month’s passage of the enabling law in Venezuela. Florida Republican Congressman Connie Mack said that one of his goals as chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere was to get Venezuela placed on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.


XIII. Coca-Cola Workers on Strike in Carabobo, Venezuela

Two weeks ago, Coca-cola workers were on the fourth day of a strike in a bottling and distribution plant in Carabobo state. Workers are demanding a fair collective agreement, pay rises, food tickets, and a dining room. According to Alexander Cedeno, president of the disciplinary tribunal of the plant, the workers haven’t had a collective agreement since June of last year. Cedeno said the company had increased its prices of beverages fourfold, but had not increased workers’ wages. Workers at the plant earn $ 18 dollars a day, and are asking for a $ 10 dollar increase. In 2008 nearly 5,000 former Coca-Cola workers blockaded bottling facilities to demand compensation after they were laid off. The layoffs came in 2003 after the Mexican firm Femsa took over the Venezuelan operations from Panamco. Coca-Cola Femsa is currently the largest bottler of Coca-Cola in Latin America.


XI. Venezuela Adjusts Exchange Rate and Reports Positive 2011 Economic Projections

The Venezuelan government eliminated the preferential exchange rate of 2.6 bolivars per dollar on January 1 following a report by the Central Bank of Venezuela that projected 2% growth as Venezuela emerges from recession. The Bolivar will now be traded at a single rate of 4.3 bolivars per dollar. Planning and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said the adjustment will quote “allow a simplification in the management of transactions.” In 2003, the government established currency controls and an exchange rate of 2.15 bolivars per dollar to stop capital flight and to control inflation following an economically devastating, management-led general strike. In January 2010, a dual exchange rate was introduced. It consisted of a preferential rate of 2.6 bolivars per dollar for essential goods and services such as food, health care, and education; and a rate of 4.3 bolivars per dollar for non-essential items. The recent exchange rate adjustments are intended to diversify Venezuela’s economy, which is dominated by the oil sector and dependent on imports. The measures are expected to stimulate domestic production by making imports more expensive.