Chavez Gets OK to Approve Laws by Decree
Friday, January 19, 2007; 4:17 AM
CARACAS, Venezuela -- 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.