CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s parliament granted President Nicolas Maduro decree powers on Sunday for the rest of 2015 in a move he says is to defend the country from U.S. meddling but opponents decry as evidence of autocracy.
In a noisy National Assembly session, ruling Socialist Party legislators, who have a majority, applauded the “Enabling Law” as a legitimate response to a U.S. declaration that Venezuela is a security threat and U.S. sanctions on seven officials.
The United States wants “to stick their hands into Venezuela’s wealth, just as they have done in other countries,” ruling party legislator Tania Diaz said, presenting the “anti-imperialist” law to parliament.
Outside, red-clad Maduro supporters chanted and held placards saying, “Yankees go home.”
In their speeches, angry opposition lawmakers said Maduro was cynically exploiting the diplomatic flare-up with Washington to amass power, justify repression and distract Venezuelans from economic problems, including acute shortages.
“Corrupt ones, your trips to Disney World are over,” tweeted opposition leader Henrique Capriles, referring to the U.S. visa ban on seven Venezuelan officials whom Washington accuses of corruption and human rights abuses.
“The Venezuelan people are not stupid. This [U.S. measure] is against you, not against Venezuela.”
The U.S. move has triggered daily denunciations from Maduro, a series of “anti-imperialist” rallies, military exercises and a proliferation of graffiti condemning “gringo” interference.
It also has overshadowed Venezuelans’ disquiet at suffering the highest inflation in the Americas, long lines for food and medicine, and shortages of many basic products.
Maduro, 52, a former union activist and foreign minister who won election to replace Hugo Chavez in 2013, has seen his ratings dive on the economic crisis. But pollsters think he may get a bounce during the U.S. spat.
Both the government and the opposition coalition are preparing for a vote later in the year to elect a new National Assembly. The date has not been set.
Mindful of past U.S. meddling in their region, Latin American neighbors have been supportive of Maduro, with the South American UNASUR bloc condemning Washington’s “interventionist threat” in a foreign ministers’ statement.
Sunday’s measure was the second time Maduro has been empowered by an Enabling Law during his two-year rule.