Wednesday, May 30, 2007

They work hard for their money 

Yesterday while the restless and bored threw rocks and burned cars the rest of Venezuela went about its business. That included Chavez himself who kept doing what he does best – making life better for the poor and working class who had been ignored for decades by previous governments. Yesterday it was the turn of some long neglected senior citizens to see Chavez make their lives a whole lot better.

First, a little background is in order. In the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution Article 88 reads:

The State guarantees equality and equity between men and women in the exercise of their right to work. The State recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates value added and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives will be eligible for Social Security in conformity with the law.

Good words and a great concept. But as we all know beautiful concepts such as this often simply remain on paper. Not in Chavez’s Venezuela though. Last year this Article was implemented with the government starting to pay hundreds of thousands of housewives a stipend equivelant to 80% of Venezuela’s minimum wage.

This represented a huge boost to the income and quality of life for a large segment of the population which previously had been neglected.

However, even that did not fully implement Article 88 of the Constitution. That had to wait for yesterday when Chavez incorporated 50,000 elderly housewives into the Venezuelan social security. These women, who would otherwise have no pension and no other means of support, often lived in indigence. By Chavez fully implementing Article 88 of the Constitution these women will have their needs met and will live in dignity – dignity to which they are entitled by a lifetime of hard work. With this move there is one less marginalized group in Venezuela and Venezuela is a better society for it.

And that was not all. Historically a very large percentage of the Venezuelan workforce has labored in the “informal” sector of the economy. Although the Chavez government has created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and most Venezuelans now work in the formal sector there are still millions laboring in "informality". Besides having an often low and unsteady income these workers are generally excluded from the Social Security System.

Chavez has worked hard to remedy that too. He has promulgated a law of Social Services which is for senior citizens who were formerly not eligible for Social Security. Under this new program they get a monthly payment equal to 60% of the minimum wage. Again, this will not have them living lives of luxury. But it does provide an important safety net for those who had not had one before. Last year 105,000 senior citizens were incorporated into this program. Yesterday, 100,000 more were made eligible.

In one fell swoop 150,000 needy senior citizens got a huge boost in their standard of living. Hundreds of thousands more were helped by his having the Social Security system catch up on back payments owed.

Recently we’ve seen how almost all important macro-economic indicators are better under this government. But if this government didn’t care so much about the welfare of average Venezuelans that would matter little – much of all the new wealth that has been created would simply end up in banks abroad as it often did under previous governments.

Fortunately Venezuela now has a government that makes sure the money winds up in the hands of average Venezuelans and of Venezuelans who have worked so hard, for so little, for far too long.

Of course, I’m sure the same people who are cheering on the rock throwers today will find fault with all this: “these are handouts”, “they are wasteful and corrupting”, or simply “it is unsustainable”. Maybe. But I think all of that carping was very elequently answered many years ago by a famous leader who when the same criticisms were leveled at his attempts to get a country back on its feet and create more social justice said:

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

The ice has long since melted in Venezuela thanks to President Chavez.


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