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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is granted decree powers by lame-duck National Assembly

Backers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and opposition supporters clash during a demonstration near the National Assembly in Caracas last week.
Backers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and opposition supporters clash during a demonstration near the National Assembly in Caracas last week. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/reuters)

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By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 7:35 PM

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Venezuela's lame-duck, pro-government congress has given temporary one-man rule to President Hugo Chavez, less than three weeks before a newly elected National Assembly with enough government foes to hamper some of his socialist initiatives takes office.

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Congress approved laws that give the state more control over the economy and granted Chavez decree powers that permit him to rule until mid-2012 without input from legislators.

With those decree powers, which lawmakers passed Friday, Venezuela enters a new stage in Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution," in which analysts say an increasingly erratic but powerful president consolidates control over a country in deep recession.

Chavez's actions, which undermine the new legislature elected in September, have been strongly condemned by government adversaries.

"This castrates the next National Assembly," Teodoro Petkoff, a former guerrilla turned newspaper editor, said of the measures in a Saturday column. "Chavez has begun to take the path of dictatorship."

The president's supporters said the "enabling law" approved by the National Assembly allows Chavez to respond more quickly to heavy rains that have left tens of thousands of Venezuelans homeless.

The 165-member National Assembly is overwhelming controlled by Chavez allies, but the new congress will include 67 lawmakers who oppose him.

Speaking to supporters in a televised address Friday, Chavez left little doubt that he would use his powers to push through a range of economic and political measures that would accelerate the oil-rich country's transformation into a socialist state.

"They will not be able to create even one law, the little Yankees," said Chavez, who brands his opponents as stooges of an imperialist U.S. government. "Let's see how they are going to make laws now."

In a legislative offensive over the past few days, the assembly has reinforced the pro-Chavez Supreme Court by appointing justices aligned with the government and approved a law making it easier to nationalize banks.

Lawmakers are also pressing forward to approve laws that would control Web sites and place new restrictions on human rights groups and their ability to receive foreign funding.

In a statement, the human rights branch of the Organization of American States said the government's proposals could prohibit the media from issuing reports that "foment anxiety" or "ignore the authorities."

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