Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of the new Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness last week. Rafael Ríos, a former lawmaker and military official, will head up the ministry, which will begin its happiness endeavors December 9. This date coincides with the newly named “Loyalty and Love to Hugo Chavez Day.”
After 14 years of rule, former president Hugo Chavez died March 5 of this year. Maduro succeeded him on April 14 as his chosen replacement.
The new ministry is intended to honor the late president and the country’s revolutionary figure Simon Bolivar with the purpose of ensuring “supreme social happiness” and alleviating poverty. Upon its unveiling, Maduro announced that “the supreme happiness office will look after our handicapped brothers and sisters, those who are homeless, our old folks, our children.”
Maduro also termed the new ministry’s work as a “social advance in the struggle against the perfidy of capitalism.”
Venezuela has a history of doling out huge amounts of money toward “supreme happiness.” Just last year, Hugo Chavez contributed 38% of the national budget to that end, spending more on “happiness” than the military or energy.
Indeed, the Earth Institute’s 2013 Happiness Report did rank Venezuela highly. The country was rated the happiest in South America and twentieth happiest worldwide.
Not all of Venezuela’s rankings are positive, however. Out of the 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, Venezuela ranked 165. Freedom House only ranks Venezuela as “partly free,” citing its Internet as “partly free” and its press as “not free.” The country also faces crippling inflation, which currently hovers around 50 percent. The inflation is driven by a weakened currency and goods running out in stores across the country. The oil rich nation is chronically short of basic goods and medical supplies.
Thus, reactions to the happiness ministry’s establishment have been skeptical. From the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, fruit vendor Victor Rey said he was awaiting a “vice ministry of beer,” saying “that would make me and all the drunks happy.”
On a more sober front, housewife Liliana Alfonzo stated her preference for being able to buy milk and toilet paper over a Supreme Happiness agency. On attempting to purchase food, which vanishes from stores within minutes of arriving, she said “it’s a Calvary getting the ingredients for any meal.”
– Kelley Calkins