President Nicolas Maduro has said he will up the monthly minimum wage as Venezuela grapples with high inflation. Maduro's announcement comes as the opposition makes efforts to have him removed from power.
The embattled Venezuelan president said on Sunday that he plans to raise the monthly minimum wage to 40,683 bolivars, about $60 (57 euros) according to the highest official exchange rate, or $12 at the black market rate.
"To get the year started, I have decided to raise the minimum wage," Maduro said on his weekly TV program, also saying that the wage increase would come with an additional food subsidy of about $93.
The Venezuelan leader has increased the minimum wage by a cumulative 322 percent since last February, as the country faces runaway inflation that has led to massive shortages of food and supplies, forcing many to cross over into Colombia for basic necessities. The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit 475 percent in 2017.
The recession has led to growing opposition to Maduro, who blames sinking oil prices since mid-2014 and an "economic war" waged by his political and business opponents.
Calls for Maduro's removal
Opposition lawmakers on the other hand argue that Maduro's incompetency, as well as nearly two decades of failed economic policies, have led to the current crisis, and insist that the government has been downplaying the inflation numbers over the years. Recently, most of the opposition parties agreed to participate in Vatican-sponsored talks in Caracas in November aimed at defusing the political conflict with Maduro.
Later that month, members of the opposition agreed to postpone a largely symbolic "trial" in parliament against Maduro following his release of four jailed activists. However, the president still faces pressure from members of the center-right opposition, which has demanded a popular vote to remove him from office.
Perhaps in response to growing calls for his ouster, Maduro recently appointed a new potential successor, Tareck El Aissami. Because the opposition missed the deadline to spark a new election through a referendum, any election held after January 10 would allow Maduro to pass the presidency on to him.
The president has also had to contend with growing opposition from the public. In December, the president's plan to scrap the 100-bolivar bill provoked protests across the country, forcing the leader to quickly backtrack on the plan. Meanwhile, according to a recent survey by polling firm Datanalisis, 80 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro's leadership.
blc/msh (Reuters, AP, EFE, AFP, dpa)