Hugo Chavez heads to 2011 with power to rule by decree
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was given an early new year's eve present by the outgoing parliament: The power to rule by decree and bypass his legislative opponents.
Caracas and Mexico City
Just a few weeks ago, it appeared Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez was in for a tough 2011. His party had lost seats in the parliament scheduled to sit in January and his political opponents were vowing to roll-back his socialist program.Skip to next paragraph
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But it now appears he has made up for his losses. The outgoing parliament passed a flurry of controversial initiatives that included giving Mr. Chavez decree powers for 18 months.
As is always the case in polarized Venezuela, opinions are divided over the laws, which range from extending government control over universities to limiting foreign funding for NGOs. Critics, who seem to oppose Chavez no matter what he does, called the measures a “coup d’etat,” while his steadfast supporters say they ensure that his socialist “Bolivarian Revolution” is not halted in its tracks.
Legislative elections in September cost Chavez his previous two-thirds majority and gave his opponents the theoretical ability to hold up some legislation. Some of his more controversial moves in recent years have been expropriating of private companies or placing more control over the central bank in the hands of the executive.
But it seems that for the time being he can move unfettered. Chavez says he wanted the power to rule by decree just to speed up the process of getting aid to victims of a flood that displaced over 130,000 people recently.
But his critics predict the decree power (contained in the Enabling Law) will be used to override parliamentary opponents at least through 2012, the year of the next presidential election. Chavez, who backed a referendum last year that ended presidential term limits, will most certainly be on the ballot.
“The Enabling Law will give him extraordinary powers so he can apply the laws rejected by the people,” says Francisco Carmona, a retired personnel manager in Caracas. “Here, we call that a coup d'etat.”
The opposition argues that Chavez is moving towards authoritarian rule. But Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Venezuela’s University of the East and the author of “Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict, and the Chavez Phenomenon,” says that the criticism is misguided. “It’s not an issue of authoritarian rule versus democratic rule. Because if Chavez wanted to, prior to recent elections and until now, he completely dominated the national assembly... Any specific legislation… he could have passed until now.”