Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolás Maduro may have bought himself some time on Wednesday when he raised gasoline prices and devalued the bolivar, but the South American country’s problems will likely worsen in the coming weeks unless he does something more.
For his part, Maduro defended the measures as being necessary to save the economy, which is expected to contract eight percent this year after a ten percent drop last year. Maduro blamed the crisis on flagging oil prices and a concerted effort by his country’s business elite to wreck his socialist revolution. Whatever the reason for the economic problems, his critics were outraged. “Venezuelans woke up poorer this morning with the president’s actions last night,” Deputy Rafael Guzmán said during an emergency session in the country’s National Assembly. “Why should the poorest Venezuelans have to pay?”
The 60-fold increase might be shocking, but even now, Venezuela’s gasoline will remain the cheapest in the world. “It’s still cheaper than water,” Felipe Romero, a 38-year-old carpenter in the central industrial city of La Victoria, told me as he waited to fill up his tank. “But I used to be able to fill my car up for less than four bolivars. Now it’s going to cost me 240 bolivars.” By comparison, a beer costs 300 bolivars ($30 at the official rate, or $0.29 at the black market rate) and a loaf of bread 120 bolivars ($12 at the official rate, $0.11 at the black market rate). In other words, gasoline is still a relative bargain.
Maduro’s move came just days after he fired his
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