Venezuela’s National Assembly granted President Hugo Chavez unprecedented power to rule by decree on Wednesday, vastly increasing his authority to move forward on his leftist agenda in every area of the country’s life from the oil industry to telecommunications to banking.
Chavez was given the special powers for 18 months by a legislature fully controlled by his party and a handful of allies. The lawmakers took their celebratory vote under the open air and tropical blue skies of Caracas’s main square, Plaza Bolivar, where ordinary Venezuelans also gathered.
National Assembly Speaker Cilia Flores asked for a show of hands from dozens of government supporters congregated below the statue of Venezuelan and Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar. “Approved unanimously, with the vote of the people”, she proclaimed.
Chavez did not attend the ceremony, and was represented by Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, who joked about criticism from home and abroad that the move has turned Chavez into a dictator.
“See how dictatorial, to make power in the hands of the state go directly to the people, and to legislate so that it goes directly to the people” Rodriguez said, referring to the show of hands in the plaza.
“A dictatorship is what we had before, the dictatorship of a few. We want to insure the dictatorship of true democracy”, he added.
With his new powers, Chavez will be capable of enacting sweeping changes to government institutions, local elections, finance and taxes, banking, national defence, and the energy field as he attempts to establish a socialist system.
The country’s opposition boycotted the last legislative election in 2005. Opposition parties have criticized the latest move as a step toward totalitarianism in the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world.
Protestors were scant in sight on Wednesday. But last weekend, they demonstrated against another of Chavez’s moves to lift the television license held by the critical broadcaster RCTV, holding up signs depicting Chavez holding a rifle. “This does not come out of elections” the slogan said. “Let us rescue the homeland”
The controversial left-wing populist Chavez – who also was given special powers in 2001 – earlier this month announced plans to nationalize the country’s largest electricity and telecommunications firms and end the autonomy of the Central Bank. Last week, he expropriated the Charallave private airport outside of Caracas. He also wants to remove presidential term limits from the constitution, raising the spectre of a leader with the ambition to hold on to the reins of power as did his political idol, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who has reigned for 47 years.
The newspaper El Mundo ran the headline “Super Chavez”, shortly before the end of the special assembly session. Chavez’s tenure has raised concerns in the United States that he has marginalized democracy. Relations between the two countries have grown increasingly sour in recent years. The US intelligence czar, John Negroponte, on Tuesday warned that Chavez was a threat to democratic governance in the region.
US President George Bush on Wednesday said Chavez’s nationalization plans “will make it harder for the Venezuelan people to be lifted out of poverty (and) will make it harder for the people to realize their full potential”.
“I’m concerned about the Venezuelan people” Bush said in an interview with Fox News Channel. “And I’m worried about the diminution of democratic institutions”
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Wednesday the National Assembly decision raises “some eyebrows” but that the United States will withhold judgement until determining how Chavez employs his new authority.
“We’ll see how he uses these powers during the next 18 months and see whether he uses them in the furtherance of Venezuelan democracy”
Italian far-leftists, made by the Party for the Communist Refoundation (PRC), the party of Fausto Bertinotti(speaker of the House of Representatives), the Italian Communists Party, the Greens and the left-wing of Democratici di Sinistra (Left Democrats), consider Chavez the natural heir of Fidel Castro, who has always been their undisputed political idol. Those parties find absolutely normal that Chavez has turned Venezuela into a dictatorship, probably because they have always had such a weird idea of what a democracy really is. They love the idea of turning off a critical broadcaster, and these weeks they are trying to pass a bizarre antitrust bill just to hit Mediaset, the tv network owned by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, their arch-enemy. They would like to push Italy out of Afghanistan, and actually out of NATO. They oppose the expansion of the U.S. military base in Vicenza, but actually they want U.S. military out of Italy. They say they just oppose the Bush Administration, not the U.S. That is not true. They are against the U.S. and against what the U.S. means.
That’s why they are delighted when they read and see what Hugo Chavez is doing in Venezuela. Here’s why the sooner this italian government is ousted by the electorate, the better is for Italy and its democracy.