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New social welfare payment for poor children in Venezuela

This week, President Hugo Chavez announced a new social welfare payment for the poorest Venezuelan children.

Addressing a group of low-income women expecting a baby, Mr Chavez revealed details of the benefit, known as the “Great Sons of Venezuela Mission”. Under this mission, women from low-income households will be eligible to receive 430 bolivars (100 dollars) each month for every child, up to a maximum of three children. For disabled dependents, the payments will be 600 bolivars. Speaking about the new mission, Mr Chavez said his revolution had arrived in time to stop “poverty and misery”.

Already during his presidency, Mr Chavez has launched a dozen missions focusing on the poorest in society, targeting areas such as low-cost housing, education and free healthcare. Now, he has begun the promotion of new missions to help the poor, including extra support for working families and pensioners. All the changes are expected to go into operation before the presidential elections next October. The president’s supporters point to these programmes as proof that Venezuela redistributes the wealth from its oil to benefit the poorest.

But critics of the president say that with Venezuela’s oil boom, society should have benefited even more. Political opponents argue that the cost of all the new benefits will be unaffordable for the state and accuse Mr Chavez of trying to buy votes with the new welfare payments and subsidies. Opposition candidates are already canvassing in working-class areas of the country, trying to persuade voters that what Venezuela really needs is more jobs. Mr Chavez is likely to face a strong challenge from the opposition, though currently he has an approval rating over 50 per cent. This has been bolstered by sympathy among voters after his recent fight against cancer. Since receiving treatment in Cuba, Mr Chavez says he is now free of cancer and ready to campaign for another six-year term of office.

At the weekend, a newly energetic Mr Chavez joined 32 other South American presidents for the first conference of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Playing host to the leaders in Caracas, Mr Chavez spoke about the importance of “unity, unity and unity” among the South American nations. One of the youth groups supported by the government gave a performance outside the conference. The Hip-Hop Revolucion (HHR) has set up 31 dance schools to train youngsters in skills such as break-dancing and rapping. Many of the trainees come from underprivileged backgrounds and the aim is to encourage them to establish classes in their local areas. HHR also holds political discussions to engage youth in the political process. One of the HHR leaders, speaking to the Guardian, said that although the movement was supported by the Venezuelan president, it would always try to be “self-critical in order to keep our revolution moving in the right direction”. The elections in Venezuela next year will be a chance for the population as a whole to look critically at their country and decide if it is headed in the right direction.

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