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Venezuelan Santa Claus

Venezuelan Santa Claus

Venezuelan Santa Claus
November 09
15:16 2017

Jesús Sánchez Meleán

Venezuela has entered the exclusive club of countries with hiperinflation. That means, that inflation at the south American country has surpassed the 50 per cent monthly rate. This record 50.6 per cent took place between September 17th and October 17th of this year, according to Econometrica, a private financial consulting firm. This private company fills in the void for the public information the Central Bank doesn’t produce or disclose.

Five years ago, the Venezuelan government prohibited the disclosure of official numbers regarding inflation and other economic variables. But even with that, the government hasn’t been able to hide their failed handling of the economy. By orders of president Nicolas Maduro, the Centra Bank has introduced the new bill with a denomination of 100 thousand bolivars. This will be the bill with the highest denomination that has ever been printed. The highest one so far was for 20 thousand bolivars.

Issuing a bill with such high number is an evidence of hyperinflation. During the present year, the media has reported how the population had to go to the grocery store with bags of money in order to pay for their shopping. An average monthly grocery bill for a family of 4 can mount up to 400 thousand bolivars. It is also a common occurrence to see long lines at banks and ATMs for people who need to withdraw cash. In hyperinflation scenarios there is also a shortage of bills.

According to experts, the government is following the wrong direction. Maduro announced the fifth minimum wage increase in 2017. It was a 30 percent increase for all Venezuelans, including active work force as well as retirees. At the same time, Maduro granted a special bonus, in cash, for retirees and food stamps for active workers. Economist José Guerra believes these measures will accelerate inflation even more.

Guerrera is convinced the government is not making any efforts to reduce food shortages by stimulating production. The economist said that the government has continued to print money and increasing their expenditures and they don’t have a plan to reduce inflation. The paradox in the Venezuelan case is that economic failure has had no political consequences. This past October 15th, Maduro’s party obtained victories in 18 of all 23 states of the country.

The big surprise is that the government won over voters that had supported the opposition during the legislative elections in November 2015. How can it be explained that despite economic difficulties, Maduro and his regime are gaining support? Political scientist Michael Penfold proved with numbers that the government’s electoral success is related to their strategy to give food and other benefits in return for the recipient’s vote. This conclusion doesn’t sound too innovative. Pena Nieto’s PRI has also been accused of populist practices similar to those applied by Maduro in Venezuela. However, everything indicates that Venezuelans have moved up to a much higher level of populism and political control. The regime created an electronic database, parallel to that of the census, that is used to distribute food at subsidized prices, and other kinds of social help. Those who register will receive a “patriotic ID,” that has become the main form of identification for Venezuelans.

Only those who possess a patriotic ID have access to the affordable food, or “CLAP bags,” that the government sells. That ID is also necessary to enroll in public schools and colleges; and to be seen at a state-operated hospital. Those who have patriotic ID also have some duties. They were forced to vote on the past elections. Those who didn’t without reasonable cause, were risking losing all the benefits from the government. Having political control though the issuance of these IDs has been very efficient for the chavista government. So much so, that the government has called municipal elections for December 10th. They are also talking about quicker presidential elections, where Maduro is expecting to be reelected, in February 2018. The municipal elections will be conquered by the governing party, and probably the presidential elections too. Meanwhile, Maduro will honor his name “Nicholas” and will dress up as Santa Claus. He just announced that the CLAP Christmas bags will include a 5-pound ham and toys. This is Venezuela.

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Edición Virtual | #300 | 23 de Noviembre 2017

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