By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- A set of new and polemical economic measures announced Friday night by embattled head of state Nicolas Maduro was met with calls for a nation-wide 24 hour general labor stoppage for Tuesday August 21st, in addition to closed shops and mass confusion & concern over the weekend.
The fact that Maduro couldn’t -- or refused to -- explain the new measures didn’t help assuage Venezuelans’ nerves. At one point Maduro (who admitted he was nursing a bad cold and stopped several times to blow his nose), closed his eyes, clutched his hand into a fist and said: “We need to think, we need to thiiinnnkkk!!!” about ways to overcome the Venezuelan crisis.
One thing is certain: Maduro’s “Paquetazo rojo” (roughly, Red Package of measures) unified the once fractured Venezuelan opposition against it. Almost all of the parties who oppose him took part in Sunday morning’s announcement of Tuesday’s stoppage. And this is only “the first day of national protest and national stoppage” against the head of state and his rule, spokesman Andres Velasquez, a former Bolivar state governor and union leader, promised.
Maduro devalued the currency, again, by 96%, to Bs 6 million to the US dollar, just days before a reconversion that is to slash five zeroes from the Bolivar: now those Bs 6 million that can get you one US dollar will be just 6 Bolivares Soberanos, the new denomination for the Venezuelan currency. Maduro also hiked the minimum wage for the 24th time since 2013, a move rejected by analysts, saying it will just promote the hyperinflation Venezuela has been experiencing since October 2017 and which is expected to clock in at 1 million per cent by year’s end, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The embattled head of state again threatened to hike the price of the cheapest gasoline prices, a move that is drawing comparisons to the increase in the price of fuels that triggered the 1989 riots known as “El Caracazo”, but refused to say when or by how much was the increase going to be implemented.
A pizza parlor owner in Chacao, a formerly wealthy municipality in the capital city of Caracas, was fighting off beggars and thinking about how he was going to pay the new minimum wage of Bs 180 million, 36 times bigger than the current monthly salary of Bs 5 million. “You know what I feel like? I feel like I should just take off running,” the worried small business owner told a journalist Saturday night, his place the only business open in the whole of the Francisco de Miranda avenue Saturday night.
In journalistic circles, the rumor began spreading Sunday that Maduro’s planners meant to hike the minimum wage by “only” 300%, to Bs 18 million, and that he either misunderstood the figure -- Maduro only has two years of high school and present Venezuelan economic figures defy the acumen of even seasoned economists -- misread it or changed it at the last minute on a whim.