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In January, during his first state of the nation speech since being elected, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a number of initiatives aimed at tackling the "economic war" being conducted by elements of the right-wing opposition against the country's elected government.
Issuing a defiant warning, Maduro said: "For those that underestimate me from the left and the extreme right, I say that I'm a socialist and I know what I'm doing."
A key focus of Maduro's address was that he intends to deepen measures and reforms to counter the ongoing "economic war," pledging to counter "both abuse and outrages" of the economy, with tougher penalties for "sabotage and speculation."
In a shocking revelation, Maduro stated that 99 per cent of businesses inspected by authorities last year were inappropriately pricing goods with "no economic explanation."
In order to directly counter this, Maduro announced a new law that will cap businesses' profit margins at 30 per cent.
"While the government makes a big effort to guarantee the quality of some services and the availability of products, the mafias speculate with other products and even medicines," he said, adding that "with the economic war the bourgeoisie have shown a cruelty that is comparable only to the acts of 2002," referring to shortages of goods ranging from milk to cooking oil and toilet paper.
"How can you describe someone who hides formula milk for babies [from supermarket shelves]? "We cannot create a new euphemism for that ... That person must be described as a criminal.
"There won't be any forgiveness for those who keep robbing the people ... they're speculating with food and medicine," he said.
In another key part of his address, Maduro explained that the government's new investment plan will focus on promoting investment in 11 key areas, with 25.5 billion Venezuelan bolivars to be invested in public works nationwide in the coming years.
He stated his government aims to bring more foreign investment to Venezuela, with some new incentives being provided to investors.
Maduro also looked back on the last year, concluding that "2013 was a year of love, loyalty and victory over pain and difficulties. We turned grief into strength and life in joy."
Pointing to the death of his predecessor Chavez as a low point, Maduro emphasised that the revolution would continue nonetheless, saying: "The enemies of Hugo Chavez were wrong, the great revolution did not vanish" after Chavez's death.
Referring to the April and December elections and how the opposition refused to accept the will of the people following his own victory in April's election, Maduro said that "democracy is only meaningful if it meets the needs of the people and not the accumulation of wealth."
Maduro issued his speech less than a week after he carried out a major reshuffle of his cabinet and reorganisation of some government ministries.
In one move, the public banking ministry has been folded into the finance ministry, which will now be headed by current Minister of Public Banking Rodolfo Marco.
Maduro called on Marco to oversee the construction of "a new financial model that can allow for all these investments that we need, that will allow the expansion of a financial system at the service of the country."
Marco was imprisoned alongside Chavez due to his involvement in Chavez's failed 1992 coup attempt, and along with heading the banking ministry, Marco has also previously managed the state-owned Banco de Venezuela.
Alongside this, the Institute for the Defence of the People's Access to Goods and Services (Indepabis) and the National Superintendency for Fair Costs and Prices will also be merged into a single institution, to be headed by Minister for Women Andreina Tarazon.
Since June, Indepabis has undertaken a nationwide crackdown on price gouging and violations of price controls, widely seen in Venezuela as part of the aforementioned "economic war" aimed at destabilising the country's progressive, elected government.
Matt Willgress is national co-ordinator of Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.
Tariq Ali will give the Inaugural Hugo Chavez memorial lecture organised by the VSC on Thursday February 20 at 7pm. More information and reserve your place at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk.
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