Venezuela: Maduro marks gains, pushes greater popular power

August 5, 2013

Nicolas Maduro completed his first 100 days since being sworn in as president on July 29 — a period marked by his new street government initiative, Latin American solidarity, and debate over spiked inflation and moderate economic growth.

Maduro’s presidency began amid protest and claims of electoral fraud from Venezuela’s right-wing opposition. They continue to reject the results of the April 14 presidential election in which Maduro won 50.6% of the vote, a 1.6% margin over Henrique Capriles.

Since then, polls have pegged his approval rating around 56%.

A key political initiative of Maduro was his “street government” program, in which he and his cabinet travelled to all states to meet with grassroots groups and regional officials. The program, which began in Zulia at the end of April, led to the approval of many projects in areas ranging from environmental issues to crime. It also included Maduro’s first expropriation.

The program has approved 2450 projects, which arose from over 2000 popular assemblies and other activities held throughout the country. Maduro said the outreach had allowed the government to interact with more than 3.4 million citizens.

“It's a contact from the people to the people,” Maduro said. “Here, the bourgeoisie, the bigwigs of the right, are not governing. The working class people are governing.”

The first stage of the initiative concluded on July 23 in Monagas state, where Maduro announced that the keys to its consolidation would be carrying out the approved projects and building the communes (new institutions of popular power).

Maduro also launched the Safe Homeland Plan, in which members of the army patrol the country’s most dangerous areas along with police. He also announced the start of a crackdown on corruption.

Internationally, Maduro carried on the efforts of late president Hugo Chavez to build cooperation among Latin American nations.

Though Maduro initiated talks with the United States for the first time in three years, relations cooled considerably after four European countries prevented the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales from entering their airspace following false information that US whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board.

Maduro subsequently offered Snowden political asylum, and later broke off conversations with the US after controversial statements from its nominee for envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

During Maduro’s first 100 days as president, monthly inflation spiked to 6.1% in May and the country experienced its worst bout of shortages of basic products in several years.

However, US economist Mark Weisbrot, co-founder of the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), said on July 23 that monthly inflation for June had declined to 4.7%, a sign that “inflation will [continue to] decrease and the economy will grow”.

Weisbrot also noted the government’s efforts to reform its exchange rate system through its newly launched Complimentary System of Foreign Currency Acquirement (Sicad), which auctions US dollars to individuals and companies.

The program aims to reduce the discrepancy between the official exchange rate for US dollars, at 6.3 bolivars per dollar, and the black market rate, which has risen to 34 bolivars per dollar.

Maduro expressed hope that the consolidation of these initiated programs would keep his government moving forward.

On July 28, Maduro said consolidation of a system of “popular government” will be the primary goal of the second stage of Venezuela’s Street Government initiative.

In a speech at Caracas’ Mountain Barracks to mark Chavez’s birthday, Maduro listed 10 other objectives on which the program would focus.

Maduro spoke of the strengthening of the Plan Secure Homeland. He also called for peace among Venezuelan youths, adding that several armed groups would soon turn in their weapons to be incorporated into various social programs.

Further objectives focused on restoring the supply of basic products and exchange rate controls to combat inflation; detecting and prosecuting cases of corruption; and stabilising the country’s system of electricity, which still occasionally causes blackouts in some areas.

Maduro also expressed support for the Military Street Government program, an initiative launched under new Defence Minister Carmen Melendez.

Maduro said: “Don't stop: continue with your plans to visit barracks, military units, academies, and schools to strengthen and improve them.”

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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