Venezuela’s lawmakers give Maduro powers to govern by decree

President says he has been given an “iron fist” to fix the country’s economy

Nicolás Maduro, seen Monday in Maracay, Venezuela.
Nicolás Maduro, seen Monday in Maracay, Venezuela.PRENSA MIRAFLORES (EFE)

Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday voted to give President Nicolás Maduro authorization to govern by decree for one year so that he can continue waging his “economic war” against private businesses which the government claims are ruining the economy.

Maduro will now be able to tighten exchange and trade controls that had been established more than a decade ago under his predecessor and mentor, the late President Hugo Chávez. He will also be able to deal directly in regulating imports, apply rationing, control the financing of all parties and introduce mechanisms to fight “against those foreign powers that want to destroy our homeland through economic means, politics and the media.”

Describing his new powers, Maduro said: “I have been given an iron fist,” adding: “What you’ve seen so far is nothing compared to what I am going to do.”

The opposition has called the move “illegal” and warned that the Maduro will use his decrees to crack down against its officials.

“Today the revolutionary deputies are formally approving this emergency enabling law to defend the people’s interests, and extend the fight in the economic war and against corruption,” said National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello as he signed the measure.

The law was passed after a tense three-hour session in which opposition deputies raised their voices in protest while the ruling coalition lawmakers shouted at the end: “Chávez lives, the fight continues.”

Cabello said he was following one of the last orders Chávez issued before he died from cancer on March 5. “Commander Chávez had warned us about the economic war and told us: approve all the laws necessary so that you can break the necks of the speculators, people who launder money, and those who steal dollars from Cadivi [the foreign currency control agency].”

Earlier this month, Maduro ordered the army to take over the stores of Daka, a popular electronics chain, after he accused the owners of inflating prices on imports they purchased with dollars obtained at preferential rates through Cadivi.

Thousands of people flooded the stores after the president announced that electronic goods and appliances would be sold at between 60 percent and 90 percent off the ticketed price.

Maduro blames speculators and price gougers for fueling the country’s economic crisis.

Venezuela suffers from severe liquidity problems, which has generated food shortages, power outages, and a 54-percent inflation rate. Its oil industry, which is the source of revenue for 60 percent of the government’s budget, is technically broke.

Governing by decree will also allow Maduro to impose severe penalties against speculators and others who the government believes are trying to ruin the economy.

When Chávez was in office, his Socialist Party majority in the National Assembly gave him authorization to rule by decree on four occasions. The first time was in 1999, the year after he took office, when he asked for a raft of special powers to put together a constituent assembly to draft the current Constitution.


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