Venezuela’s Maduro hikes minimum wage amid rising protests
CARACAS - The Associated Press
REUTERS photoVenezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hiked wages and handed out hundreds of free homes on April 30 amid his efforts to counter a strengthening protest movement seeking his removal.
On his regular television show, “Sundays with Maduro,” the president ordered a 60 percent increase in the country’s minimum wage starting Monday. It was the third pay increase the socialist leader has ordered this year and the 15th since he became president in 2013.
It is small solace to workers who seen the buying power of their earnings eroded by a sinking currency and the world’s highest inflation - forecast to accelerate to 2,000 percent next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
With the latest wage increase and mandatory food subsidies, the minimum take home pay for millions of Venezuelans now stands at 200,000 bolivars a month - or less than $50 at the widely used black market rate.
“We’re here to take care of the workers, those who are most humble, and not the privileges of the oligarchs,” Maduro said.
In addition to the pay hike, he announced a special “economic war” bonus to retirees to make up for what he says are attempts by the opposition to sabotage the economy.
The president also watched as officials in several states handed over the keys to hundreds of new apartments, some built with Chinese funding, bringing to 1.6 million the number of public housing units built by a program started by the late President Hugo Chavez.
The announcements came as government supporters and Maduro’s opponents prepared for rival marches to commemorate May Day.
Twenty-nine people have been killed, hundreds injured and more than 1,300 arrested during a month of protests that are the bloodiest to hit Venezuela since anti-government unrest in 2014 resulted in more than 40 dead.
Protesters accuse Maduro of taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, unrest triggered by the government-stacked Supreme Court stripping congress of its last vestiges of power. They are demanding early elections and freedom for dozens of political prisoners as a way out of the stalemate.
The opposition blames the recent deaths on security forces and pro-government militias for the deaths. The government has complained of what it considers biased media coverage that will pave the way for some sort of foreign intervention in Venezuela.