This Tuesday, January 12, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro delivered his annual address to the nation, from the National Assembly (AN), in which he outlined the most outstanding elements in politics and national life during the year 2020 and a forecast of the year to come.
Some of the milestones and highlights of his intervention will be reviewed below.
Political stability and the new parliamentary cycle
President Maduro, contrary to some predictions, returned to the floor of the national Parliament, just as he did five years ago in front of an AN dominated by the opposition. At that time, anti-Chavismo predicted that it would be the last presentation of the President’s constitutional speech at the beginning of the year. However, the Venezuelan political cadre today see Maduro in a triumphant position after overcoming the past parliamentary cycle. “Being here today as constitutional president before the renewed AN is an indication of the determination that our people have to be free, which sooner or later will have to be recognized by those who, from a colonialist perspective, underestimate us,” he said.
Maduro inaugurated a new parliamentary cycle at the same time as the tumultuous and chaotic transition of command in the US, with Donald Trump exiting, and on the verge of being politically prosecuted—a paradox when we consider that the US government, in the last four years, crossed many lines in its efforts to eliminate Chavismo.
Throughout his speech, he recalled several attacks against the country, ranging from the assassination attempt against him in 2018, the price-setting on his head by the US government, to the armed incursion by mercenaries in Operation Gideon. All of these, stated Maduro, with Donald Trump at the helm.
Likewise, he referred to the “triumph of peace” and political stability, with which the institutional health of the country was renewed and the disastrous preceding parliamentary cycle closed, representing the recovery of a legitimate space for governance.
Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has been, without doubt, the most important turning point in national public management, and required an unprecedented deployment on behalf of the Venezuelan state and society, under adverse conditions. However, the president reiterated that the timely action of his government allowed the crisis to be handled effectively.
“We were the first country in the world, and I as president, the first in the world, to put on the mask and call the population to its indispensable use,” said Maduro. In Venezuela, only 120 thousand cases have been reported in 300 days of the pandemic, a figure much lower than other countries of the region. He added that even before the World Health Organization (WHO) promoted the use of facemasks, Venezuela was already implementing them.
He also referred to the exceptional deployment of the state, the use of the National Platform as a tool for government information to care for the population, and the activation of 14 thousand medical brigades for house-to-house screenings, based on that information. Likewise, 58 sentinel hospitals specialized in COVID-19 and 400 CDIs were enabled to hospitalize patients. The coverage has been almost total for the cases, he pointed out, and Venezuela is the only country in the world that has provided hospitalization mechanisms for all confirmed cases.
In the last three months, the recovery of COVID-19 patients has been kept at 95 percent, compared to an average of 70 percent, thanks to the hospitalization of 95 percent of patients, he said.
Stimulus checks, job tenure, suspension of rent payments, among other actions, allowed for high levels of compliance with social distancing measures during the first months of the pandemic. He called for sustaining and “improving” the 7+7 reopening scheme that was implemented, to mitigate the number of infections and also support economic activities.
The president said that the results in the fight against the pandemic have been the product of a “collective effort,” and recalled the stress placed on Venezuelan families due to the dynamics of social distancing.
Summarizing his speech, in reference to the fight against COVID-19 Maduro highlighted the unique situation presented for public policy, and the exceptional circumstances, compounded by the US blockade and its satellites against the country, which blocked Venezuela’s regular access to medical supplies and equipment. He also thanked the support of countries such as China, Russia and Cuba, as well as the United Nations (UN), for their help during the health crisis.
Maduro emphasized that national cohesion, awareness, and clear and timely state policy in handling the crisis, made a difference in Venezuela, highlighting the trust placed in the actions of the state by the people.
The blockade against the country
In his speech, President Maduro referred to the persistence of the US blockade against Venezuela. In fact, it was a recurrent theme in his speech, an indication of the attacks the national economy faces, and the deep disfigurements that it creates, and that define the economic outlook for the country.
Maduro demonstrated that in six years the country lost 98.6 percent of the volume of income in foreign currency. The nation went from obtaining more than $50 billion in 2013 to $743 million in 2020. For every $100 that the country obtained from the sale of oil in 2014, it receives little more than $1 dollar today.
The blockade has gone to the core of the national economy. Historically Venezuela’s oil exports contributed 95 percent of the foreign currency that circulated in the economy. The president pointed out that the impact of the blockade has resulted in the loss of production of 2,153,000 barrels of crude per day from 2015 to the end of 2020. The operational drop is due both to the impossibility of exports and the induced investment drop. In this way, he added, the estimated net loss for the nation was over $102 billion that didn’t enter the national economy in that same period.
“The most brutal thing we have faced is the economic war. The attack in the last five years has been multifaceted. It has attacked all fronts: gold, oil, import of goods, domestic production. There is no front that has not been attacked,” he said. Maduro added that the abrupt fall in income “disrupted macroeconomic balances, affected international reserves, GDP, monetary liquidity and, most painfully, the income of workers, which should be the center of economic recovery.”
He recognized ravages such as the increase in unemployment by two points, reaching eight percent, a figure that had not been registered in Venezuela for ten years. He also mentioned that the deterioration of wages increased the rise of informal employment to 43.9 percent and in the same way, formal employment was degraded, which fell from 59.3 to 56.1 percent.
However, the president stressed progress and possibilities in other areas at the expense of the blockade. He pointed out that in 2020, 400 thousand more tons of food were produced on Venezuela’s soil, and that “it’s almost reaching a point of self-sufficiency with Venezuelan production.” This is not a minor fact if one considers the historical “port economy” developed in tandem with oil rentierism in the country. Ironically, the president referred to favorable circumstances amid the damages wrought by the economic embargo.
He added that the country is preparing for a legal onslaught on the foreign front to reclaim Venezuelan assets detained or frozen by elements of the alleged parallel government of Juan Guaidó. “We have to sue whoever has to be sued, litigate before whoever we have to, and go wherever we have to go, to return to the country the stolen heritage, which today feeds the luxury life of criminals and corrupt billionaires,” he said. The assertion comes at a time of superficial changes in the conditions of recognition of the fake government of Guaidó by bodies such as the European Union (EU), which delegated to its member countries their recognition as “interim president,” both due to the loss of Guaidó’s credibility, and the breakdown of consensus around the blockade.
Faced with Venezuela’s fuel crisis in the face of the blockade, Maduro stressed that the sustained work of the oil workers and the support of Iran—who through “secret flights” brought Venezuela spare parts to repair national refineries—the production of gasoline has recovered. From 1.5 million barrels of gasoline produced between January 1 to May 31, it rose to 11 million barrels from June 1 to December 31, 2020, moving the country away from the long-awaited point of collapse promoted by the agents of the siege.
Likewise, he indicated that the country expects to recover production of 1.5 million barrels of crude per day in the coming months, in accordance with new alliances within the framework of the Anti-Blockade Law and new actions to circumvent the blockade.
President Maduro again referred to the process of incorporating the dollar, increasingly, in commercial operations in the country, pointing to this phenomenon as a “valve” that has facilitated transactions amid strong pressures of induced devaluation, citing US Senator Richard Clark, who admitted that “it was us (the US) who made their currency worth nothing.”
Maduro pointed out the repeal of the Foreign Exchange Law, which allowed the flexibility of mechanisms for the use of the dollar as a means of payment. However, he highlighted the value of the bolivar as a currency, since 77 percent of the country’s transactions were made digitally in national currency, and 20 percent in dollars, in cash. The incorporation of the US dollar by the population and by economic agents, and also by the regulation of the state, has led to the dollarization of the Venezuelan economy. However, the president emphasized the permanence of the bolivar economy, within the contradictions and new realities that the economic situation has imposed.
For Maduro, the consolidation of the bolivar will not be a short process, but he indicated that its recovery will go hand in hand with the use of crypto assets and other forms of digital payment as mechanisms to facilitate daily transactions.
As mentioned previously, it’s expected that Venezuela will switch this year to new digital payment options to further substitute for cash in activities such as transportation, the sector which receives the largest amount of national paper currency. The bet is that the Venezuelan economy will move to 100 percent in digital forms.
The president indicated that the same circumstances of the blockade, as well as the economic measures of his cabinet, have pushed the country to new economic relations between the state and the private sector, overcoming old rentier logic and promoting investment in foreign currency in the real economy by parts of these sectors as relief mechanisms, justified by the net fall in oil income.
He called for a national effort to recover wages, without demagogy and in recognition of the new realities facing the country. “During 2020, 517 million bonds were delivered that benefited 14.2 million people, on average monthly. Resources were transferred to vulnerable sectors for $1.4 million, “he said, indicating that these bonuses (stimulus checks) have alleviated the drop in wages. “23 unique social protection bonuses, monthly protection bonuses for childbirth, breastfeeding, José Gregorio Hernández and Hogares de la Patria bonuses were granted to 6.2 million households.”
In the same line of management of the “social salary”, the president indicated that 121 million CLAP food boxes were distributed, exceeding 1.2 million tons of food. “The goal was met, although the quality of the products must be monitored, and it must be permanently improved, with national production.”
In fiscal matters, he indicated that in the last three years the fiscal contribution of the internal collection to public spending in bolivars doubled, from 23 percent to 47 percent, between 2018 and 2020. Today, despite the pandemic, practically half of the national budget is financed with internal taxes, he added.
On the way to the Commune, mission bases and houses
As part of his political agenda and in promoting participatory and leading democracy, which is clearly linked to social management and state policies, President Maduro strengthened his proposal to advance new laws on “Communal Cities” and “Communal Parliament.” Seen this way, Chavismo is preparing to gain ground in areas of the country’s entrenched politics, rooted in the realities of everyday life. Under the banner of Chavismo Maduro visualizes a resurgence of popular forms of politics in the future.
Maduro is committed to breaking with the lethargy and paralysis that attempts induce internal conflicts. In response to the forces that seek to push back the state and its social forces politically, the proposal to advance popular politics took an ambitious form in this address.
The popular organization has been consolidated with the development of 3,219 communes, 48,548 communal councils with spokespersons renewed by direct vote, and 2,401 productive councils of workers (CPT). “We are the working class in power,” he said.
In 2020, 560 socialist mission bases were inaugurated for a total of 1,261 activated bases, which serve the inner-city communities. Similarly, 291 new food distribution centers were installed, for a total of 3,672 throughout the country. In 2020, Venezuela built 400,000 new homes, and for 2021 has a goal of building 500,000 homes for the Vivienda Venezuela Housing Program, “towards five million homes by 2025”, achievements and new goals that in times of the blockade and pandemic are extremely significant.
Counteroffensive and multidirectional consolidation of public policy
A summary of the presidential address should also include the fundamental milestones of the year 2020, marked by the uniqueness of a national policy that was sustained despite harsh attacks. For the president, the resilience of Venezuela in the face of threats and actions harmful to the national interest was, in essence, the most meaningful accomplishment that defined the year that just ended.
The presence of President Maduro in office and the recovery of the nation’s political and institutional stability, closing the previous parliamentary cycle, are indicators that Venezuela has moved away from its alleged subjugation. Maduro claimed victory over those who acted to dismantle the state. The year 2020—marked by its exceptionality and for having been the peak of the “maximum pressure” exerted against the country to date—culminates as a year of resistance, but also of counteroffensive.
The goal of public policy in all its dimensions is the recovery of economic and social stability, but, especially, for the recovery of the role of the state in governing and promoting public policy as impregnable bastions of Chavismo, as has been the case historically. That was the common denominator of the president’s speech, defining a roadmap that points inward to national life.
Despite the lesions caused by the blockade, considering that it’s goal was to suffocate the country and undermine the government, the year 2021 will have new challenges: to produce new spaces for recovery of the national socio-political fabric. With this forecast Maduro set a guideline for all sectors of the country.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune