Venezuela fights shortage blues with new “happiness” agency

Ariana Cubillos, File/Associated Press - FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2013 file photo, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro waves during a visit to the Bolivarian National Guard command in Caracas, Venezuela. Maduro announced Thursday evening, Oct. 24, 2013, the creation of a new ministry known as the Vice Ministry of Supreme Happiness.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Americans may insist on the right to pursue happiness, but Venezuela now has a formal government agency in charge of enforcing it.

President Nicolas Maduro says the new Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness will coordinate all the “mission” programs created by the late President Hugo Chavez to alleviate poverty.

epa03916249 A Balinese man walks among the blazing coconut husks during a sacred ritual called 'Mesabatan Api' or fire fight at a temple in Tuban, Bali, Indonesia, 19 October 2013. During the ritual Balinese Hindu men took the blazing coconut husks barehanded, swinging and throwing them each other. Balinese believe that fire can destroy evil, and the ritual is aimed to get rid of the negative forces.  EPA/MADE NAGI

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Wags had a field day Friday, waxing sarcastic on Twitter about how happy they felt less than 24 hours after the announcement.

Oil-rich Venezuela is chronically short of basic goods and medical supplies. Annual inflation is running officially at near 50 percent and the U.S. dollar now fetches more than seven times the official rate on the black market.

In downtown Caracas, fruit vendor Victor Rey said he’s now waiting for Maduro to create a vice ministry of beer.

“That would make me, and all the drunks, happy,” he said.

A TV journalist whose show was recently forced off the air after he refused to censor political opponents of the ruling socialists, Leopoldo Castillo, called Maduro’s announcement an international embarrassment.

Housewife Liliana Alfonzo, 31, said that instead of a Supreme Happiness agency she’d prefer being able to get milk and toilet paper, which disappear off store shelves minutes after arriving at stores.

“It’s a Calvary getting the ingredients for any meal,” she said.

Maduro blames the shortages on speculation and hoarding, but merchants say they would go broke if they adhered to government price controls.

Chavez spent billions on social programs, from benefits for single mothers to handouts of apartments and major appliances.

Maduro was elected April 14 as Chavez’s chosen successor.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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