Venezuelan legislature votes to give Chavez dictatorial power


By Natalie Obiko Pearson
Associated Press
Friday, January 19, 2007

Venezuelan lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill granting President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months so that he can impose sweeping economic, social, and political change.

Emboldened by his landslide re-election last month, the leftist leader has called for "revolutionary laws" to accelerate the country's transformation into a full socialist state.

"This process is unstoppable," lawmaker Juan Montenegro Nunez told the National Assembly Thursday. "This process is a historic necessity."

The vote was unanimous as the National Assembly has been entirely filled with Chavez's allies since opposition parties boycotted 2005 elections.

Chavez began his third term last week by announcing his intent to nationalize key sectors of the economy, rewrite the country's constitution to eliminate presidential term limits, and strip the Central Bank of its autonomy.

He also called for an end to foreign ownership of lucrative crude oil refineries. Venezuela is the world's fifth oil producer and the fourth supplier to the United States, its top customer.

"What is becoming evident is that all the powers are one single power in Venezuela -- Hugo Chavez," said opposition politician Gerardo Blyde.

Chavez has angered Washington with his relentless anti-U.S. rhetoric, his support for Iran's nuclear ambitions and his warm relations with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. And yet with oil profits booming and his popularity high, Chavez seems to be in step with many Venezuelans.

At the apex of a resurgent Latin American left, he urged South American leaders meeting in Brazil Thursday to abandon the U.S.-supported free-market policies and privatization of state industries that formed the pillars of their main trade bloc, Mercosur.

"We came to approve accords, create space (for the disenfranchised), projects to strengthen the real integration of South America and contribute with something we consider absolutely necessary: the reformulation of Mercosur," Chavez said.

The Venezuelan bill provides a broad "mother law" that would enable Chavez to enact laws by decree. The measure is expected to easily win final approval on its second reading in the assembly.

National Assembly President Cilia Flores said that vote would probably be next week, though she did not specify a day.

"The president has asked for a year and a half, and he will have a year and a half to adapt all of these laws to the new political model," Flores said as the debate opened Thursday. The discussion lasted four hours, though there was no real opposition.

Chavez has not spelled out what other changes he intends to make, but Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro suggested nationalization also was on the horizon for the mining sector.

"The basic industries of minerals should be in the hands of the national state," he said at the Mercosur summit in Brazil.

It was unclear whether that would mean a total state takeover or majority stakes for the government in mining operations now held by private companies. Already state conglomerates have for decades dominated the mining of iron and bauxite to produce steel and aluminum.

Chavez last week designated Venezuela's main telecommunications company and the country's electricity and natural gas sectors as targets for nationalization.

Chavez has formed a commission to rewrite the constitution in keeping with his socialist vision and expects to hold a referendum on the changes by the end of the year. Chavez has already revised the constitution once since he took office in 1999.

Among the changes, Chavez is seeking an end to presidential term limits, which would allow him to run again for the presidency in December 2012.

Chavez has been emboldened to make more radical changes at home after winning re-election with 63 percent of the vote, his widest margin ever.

Chavez says he is crafting a new sort of "21st-century socialism" for Venezuela. Critics say it is starting to look like old-fashioned totalitarianism by a leader obsessed with power.

* * *

at the
2007 Vancouver Resource Investment Conference
Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre
Sunday and Monday, January 21 and 22, 2007

Admission is free for those who register in advance. The conference has arranged discount rates at the Pan Pacific Hotel adjacent to the convention center.

GATA will hold a reception at the conclusion of the conference: from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, January 22, in the Cypress Suite at the Pan Pacific, 999 Canada Place. The Cypress Suite is on the hotel's restaurant level, one floor above the lobby. The reception will offer snacks, a cash bar, and some brief remarks by GATA's delegates to the conference, including Chairman Bill Murphy. There will be no admission charge for the reception but so that we might prepare better, if you plan to attend please let Secretary/Treasurer Chris Powell know by e-mail at

* * *

Help Keep GATA Going

GATA is a civil rights and educational organization based in the United States and tax-exempt under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. Its e-mail dispatches are free, and you can subscribe at GATA is grateful for financial contributions, which are federally tax-deductible in the United States.