April 16, 2014

Concern is that short-term solutions may cause new headaches in 2014

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Maduro ends hyperactive first year promising more

CARACAS — Lacking the support and the charisma of his predecessor, President Nicolás Maduro is ending 2013 with the promise of extending and deepening the “21st Century Socialism” that Hugo Chávez left behind upon his death.

Some analysts doubt that Maduro has the mettle to reach what was beyond Chávez but few doubt that he will not attempt as much as the local economic and political situation will allow and note that it would be an error to underestimate him.

“What you have seen (up till now) is nothing compared to what we will do,” said Maduro upon receiving special powers at the end of November. These powers, approved by a National Assembly dominated by the ruling party, allow him to issue decrees invested with the power of a law for a period of 12 months in order to respond to what he considers an “economic war” unleased by the opposition to destabilize his government.

Maduro won the presidential elections following Chávez’s death with a slim margin and was beset with fraud accusations that weakened him even before the eyes of his supporters. Although he was able to establish himself quickly, Maduro is still faced with the challenge of demonstrating that he can take difficult and unavoidable decisions to address the issues that affect Venezuelans without tarnishing Chávez’s legacy.

eight months, ten years

In his first eight months Maduro has forcefully challenged his adversaries and to date has been able to keep them at bay. The next year promises to be complicated nonetheless, as he must deal with a series of intractable problems that according to his critics he has been avoiding. These problems are the result of 10 years of severe controls on prices and currency exchanges leading to runaway inflation and scarcity of basic products such as milk, cooking oil, corn flour and toilet paper. Faced with an annual inflation rate of 54.3 percent and scarcity of basic goods, Maduro began to apply forced inspections to small-scale retailers selling electronics, constructions materials and hardware stores, among others, to combat speculative price increases and the usury that he considers are the manifestations of the “economic war”.

As a consequences hundreds of businesses reduced their prices up to 70 percent and the shelves were soon empty. There are now fears that confidence has been undermined to the point that re-stocking may be a problem in the new year.

Maduro’s actions have at least in a transitory fashion achieved the objective of being seen as positive by many Venezuelans. “I never voted for Chávez nor for Maduro, but it must be recognized that Maduro has done more against speculation than Chávez did in 14 years,” said América Arteaga, a home maker.

Crime is another problem that Maduro must deal with. It is estimated that 16,000 people lost their lives throughout Venezuela in homicides in 2012. “Crime is worse now than ever, there isn’t a day that we don’t live in fear”, noted María de Ruiz. “That’s a debt that Chávez never paid.”

It now remains to be seen if Maduro will pick up the tab or will add his own debts.

Herald with AP

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