Venezuela: New year, new battles

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

‘[2014] is going to be a year of establishing a new internal economic order... at the service of the population.’

President Nicolas Maduro

A significant victory in the December municipal elections has enabled President Maduro to begin 2014 in a strong position. This year will be the first since 2006 that the Bolivarian Revolution has not been put to the test in the ballot box. Socialists must use this opportunity to win the economic war, consolidate the bases of popular power and push ahead with Chavez’s Programa Patria plan for socialist development which was passed by the National Assembly at the end of 2013.

Wresting control of the economy from private speculation and tackling inflation, which exceeded 50% last year, are urgent tasks. The minimum wage was increased by 10% in January, a stopgap measure to alleviate the lack of purchasing power for the working class. The crackdown on hoarding and speculation continues, with such crimes now punishable by up to ten years in prison. On 23 January, Maduro implemented ‘the law for the control of fair costs, prices and profits’, imposing a 30% cap on private profit margins. The National Superintendency for the Defence of Socioeconomic Rights (SUNDEE) brings together existing organisations to monitor importers, producers, suppliers and retailers more efficiently. SUNDEE has new powers to confiscate over-priced goods, occupy stores and factories and enforce price controls. In addition a mandatory register of importers and exporters is being drawn up, a step towards state control of foreign trade.

New regulations limiting access to dollars for travel have been introduced as part of the fight against currency fraud. International travel, internet shopping, some imports and airline tickets will no longer be eligible for dollars sold at the preferential rate of Bs6.30: US$1. Instead the rate is Bs11.30 to the dollar, the rate used by the state in regular foreign currency auctions. Imports of food, domestic industry, agriculture, health care, education and science will continue to operate at the Bs6.30 rate. In addition, the amount of dollars allocated for foreign travel and internet shopping is now reduced to combat capital flight and economic sabotage. The measures will make it more difficult for Venezuelans to participate in scams such as ‘the scrape’ (see FRFI 236). Facing critics, Rafael Ramirez, vice-president for the economy and oil minister emphasised, ‘Should we give dollars to people who resell them on the black market, or should we bring in medicine? Should we give dollars to travellers, or should we bring in food?’

In his State of Nation address on 15 January, Maduro announced the investment of over $4bn in 11 strategic areas including oil derivatives, construction, manufacturing, agriculture and telecommunication. Agrarian reform and production will be accelerated with the planned expropriation of 350,000 hectares of idle land this year. A new stage of the street government initiative has already commenced. In 2013 nearly 3.5 million people participated in street government events, drawing up proposals that launched over 3,300 public works. The more control that the Bolivarian revolution has over land and industry, the more it can move towards food sufficiency and import substitution; while developing the participation of popular power in the management of land distribution and organisation of industry is essential in rooting out corruption and fraud.

The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has called its second national congress for July. Maduro hopes this will ‘rectify, revise, and re-drive’ the party’s theoretical and organisational bases. The results from the working groups for the congress will be presented on 20 February, so that a process of discussion with the grass roots can take place. With rumbles of discontent about internal democracy and grassroots participation in recent elections, the progress that the PSUV can make in the coming months could be decisive for the future of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Sam McGill