Photo: Le Point
In a mandatory broadcast from the National Assembly, the ministerial cabinet gave their accountability speeches, a cynical exercise of propaganda favoring Chávez, who would later announce the Great Housing Mission to cover an estimated deficit of three million housing units, so they created the 19th registry using housing as an electoral strategy.
The clowns, sorry, the experts who analyzed Simón Bolívar’s remains exhumed from his tomb, established that he could’ve died from hydroelectric shock instead of tuberculosis.
A national census was carried out, with severe criticism to some questions that violated citizens’ intimacy. There were problems in fuel distribution, which caused gas shortages in several cities, and power outages continued, with greater intensity in the country’s central areas. Chávez chose to finance Pastor Maldonado in Fomula 1 and Jhonattan Vegas, despite having threatened to expropriate nine golf courses in 2009.
Rains and homeless
An unusual rainy season started in December and stayed throughout January, causing landslides, floods and the collapse of roads and housing infrastructure. Once more, nature proved that the State had no structural capacity to deal with natural disasters. 130,000 people lost their homes and were placed in improvised shelters in schools, churches, military compounds, ministry headquarters, hotels and Sambil Mall La Candelaria, and the government ordered them to not return to their homes, but instead stay in the shelters until their new houses were ready. The outgoing National Assembly used this tragedy to approve a pack of “express” laws in a series of extraordinary sessions, including the law of higher education, which Chávez himself had to veto, obtaining a third Enabling Law for 18 months to legislate by decree. The AN appointed new TSJ justices in an illegal procedure, choosing judges who didn’t comply with the constitutional requisites. The emergency didn’t stop expropriations either. By January, the payment for expropriations was estimated at $20 billion, most of them unfulfilled. Meanwhile, the AgroVenezuela mission started the national producers census.
The new Assembly
With the opposition’s return to the National Assembly, necessary debate was also back. Fernando Soto Rojas was Parliament Speaker and the opposition started condemning the courts’ decision to prevent the induction of elected lawmakers José Sánchez and Biagio Pilieri, political prisoners who weren’t entitled to parliamentary immunity, according to chavismo. Chávez’s third Enabling Law crippled the AN’s capacities. The Emoluments Law was enacted, causing many problems in public administration for slashing wages and benefits. The Law of Complementary Indebtedness, the Law of Foreign Service and the new Sports Law were also approved.
The size of a ball
It all started with a medical leave, for which several public and media appearances were cancelled, allegedly because Chávez was suffering a really strong flu. Then, he’d suffer a knee injury that had to be surgically operated and, days later, when he was about to go on a tour, an abscess was detected in his pelvis and he chose to treat it in Cuba. During his convalescence, Chávez enacted (from Cuba!) an indebtedness law for Bs. 45 billion, in addition to the Bs. 52 billion already established for 2011. Chávez never announced a date for his return and the government’s silence made the rumors multiply. In a cadena, he finally reported that he had undergone two surgeries and that a tumor with cancerous cells had been extracted from his body, “the size of a baseball ball,” thus confirming suspicions and opening another stage in the country’s political and social life. Chávez eventually resumed his routine, turning his recovery into another emotional link with his grassroots. The cancer demanded much more rest, but he insisted on getting ready for the 2012 presidential campaign.
Protests and human rights
Several workers’ unions and groups demanded an end to expropriation threats against private companies that were still productive, even involving some union leaders from chavista ranks, because the collective bargaining discussions in the public sector had stagnated for years. A group of students from several universities went on hunger strike for 23 days before OAS headquarters in Caracas to demand attention for the status of human rights in Venezuela and the release of political prisoners. The government denied that there were political prisoners, but released Biagio Pilieri and Freddy Curupe, promising to review other cases, such as the case of judge María Lourdes Afiuni. The hunger strikes multiplied across the country in several sectors. People affected by rains also demanded better living conditions due to the lack of safety in shelters and delays in the handing over of promised housing units. Once again, the IACHR was the scenario of discussion regarding the government’s actions, once domestic instances had been exhausted. Three people were confirmed dead in CICPC headquarters in EL Rosal with signs of torture, but then Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said it was an isolated incident.
Francisco Illaramendi, who managed the pensions fund for PDVSA’s employees, pleaded guilty for fraud before U.S. prosecutors and confessed that he used thousands of millions of dollars from his customers to arrange a fraud. Since the Emoluments Law slashed large salaries, TSJ justices established a Bs. 10,000 monthly food bonus for themselves. The Education Ministry sent a memorandum barring schools from requesting textbooks different to those found in the Bicentenario Collection, made by the ministry itself with notable ideological revisions. Average and extreme poverty both increased in the 2010-2011 period and the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence estimated 19,000 murders during 2011. The candidates who aspired to face Chávez in 2012 were determined in the first week of November: María Corina Machado, Pablo Pérez, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Leopoldo López and Diego Arria.
The social and political conflicts in the Middle East, with regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, destabilized oil prices in the global market, and the barrel reached $100. The national budget was planned based on $40 per barrel, but minister Rafael Ramírez dismissed the need to review it and Chávez (via habilitante) ordered oil surplus be transferred to Fonden, managed by the Administration and distributed at its discretion. For $400 million, the government returned the gold reserves stored in banks in the U.S. and London. They also sent the dollars of international reserves to banks in China and Russia. Inflation peaked at 27.6% (surpassing the 26.5% minimum wage hike) and the State’s public debt reached $163.7 billion. The GDP grew by 4%. International reserves were at $29,8 billion. The bolívar kept losing purchasing power. Don’t forget the $70 million Venezuela paid for the installation of an underwater optical fiber cable to provide telecommunications services for Cuba.