Hugo Chavez’s Latest Power Grab

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On Wednesday, it was announced that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has asked the National Assembly to grant him “special powers” to enact laws by decree for a period of one year.  Of the Assembly’s 165 lawmakers, the overwhelming majority of which are pro-Chavez supporters, only 5 voted against the measure.  Final approval of the initiative is expected early next week.  If granted, this would be the fourth time in Chavez’s 12-year reign that he would be given permission to bypass Venezuela’s legislative body.

“The measures we have to take are deep. Almost 40 percent of the country was affected” (by heavy rains), said Vice President Elias Jaua.  Those rains, which caused severe flooding and and heavy mudslides have forced over 120,000 newly-homeless Venezuelans in to public shelters.  The initial decrees Chavez is aiming to impose unilaterally include laws to streamline the process of building roads and housing, and an indeterminate raise of the nation’s value-added tax, which is currently 12%.  “The situation continues to be critical, and we need to tend to it with a set of laws,” said Chavez, who is also seeking powers to issue additional decrees in the country’s “socio-economic system.”   According to the Associated Press, this category includes telecommunications, the banking system, information technology, the military, rural and urban land use, and a new geographical regionalization of the country.  According to Chavez himself, “all of these laws will be within the framework of the constitution.”

The constitution to which Chavez is referring is the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, which replaced the constitution enacted in 1961, which had been in effect longer than any other. Venezuela has had 26 constitutions between 1811 and 1961 . On December 15th, 1999, 71.8% of the voters approved the new constitution, although 55.6% abstained from voting. According to constitutional lawyer Tulio Álvarez, the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 “does not set any limits on the scope and duration of any special powers granted by law to the president, and that “Article 203 says that legislators will define the scope and duration of any special powers.” He adds that the new National Assembly which convenes on January 5, 2011 could “remove/suspend any special powers granted to Chavez by the current assembly, but would require at least 99 votes to do so. However, the opposition does not have 99 votes in the new assembly.”

The three previous opportunities Chavez was granted to bypass the National Assembly occurred in 1999, 2001, and 2007.  In 1999, Chavez, despite fierce opposition from congress, enacted two new tax laws and a revision of the income tax code.  In 2001, he decreed 49 additional laws, including “agrarian reform measures” and a law sharply increasing taxes on foreign oil companies. The Hydrocarbons Law raised the royalty rate oil companies were paying the country from 16.6% to 30%, and increased stake given to the Venezuelan nation on any oil industry investment, to 51%, effectively nationalizing the industry.  In 2007, Chavez was granted 18 months of “special powers” which he used to seize control of privately run oil fields, nationalize telecommunications, electricity and cement companies and impose still more taxes.

In 2009, Chavez was granted permission to nationalize two Venezuela coffee companies which were accused of  “acting as monopolies and flouting price controls by smuggling coffee into Colombia.”  Iron companies were also nationalized in 2009.  “Nationalize the iron briquette sector, there is nothing to discuss,” Chavez announced on national television.

Chavez opponents blasted this latest move, with one daily newspaper editor, Teodoro Petkoff, of Tal Cual there referring to it as a “Christmas ambush”  and further characterizing it as a “brutal attack … against democratic life.”  Petkoff may get far less opportunity to criticize Chavez in the future: according to published reports, Mr. Chavez is  seeking new laws to further regulate the Internet and Globovision, the country’s last remaining TV station vigorously opposed to the his agenda.  He is also urging lawmakers to pass a law barring non-governmental organizations (read human rights groups) from securing additional funding from the United States.

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  • jemc50

    Wow. This can only be good for Venezuela. Let a crazy man have total control for a year. What a two bit dictator! (/sarc)

  • Cuban Refugee

    Of course Venezuela's economy is in tatters — that's what communism does: it destroys, whether in the 21st century or the 20th the putrid flavor and stench of its product is the same. This lunatic in a red shirt is admired by many in the Obama administration, including one of his "czars," Mark Lloyd, who praised Chavez's "revolution." Reading your article provided a glimpse into the future of our republic — we have already seen the birth of tyranny here, and, if we allow it to flourish, we may as well order some red shirts for our wardrobe.

    • Fred Dawes

      I am sad to say it will flourish for one reason in the last 50 years we have had well over 30,000,000 million third world people come here all want the good life without working for it, and with millions and millions of third world people more will just want and want, " population as a weapon outlined by many people in many books all people can do now is to watch the total take over of total Red Tyranny just like hitler did and what happend to china/ russia/cuban and many other counties.

      and yes order 7 Red Shirts one for each day.

  • Wesley69

    Chavez is the modern day Castro; the new idol of Leftists both here and abroad. He's a Radical Left-Wing dictator dedicated to a state-run economy with a transfer of the wealth. It still amazes me how the American Left could honor such men as Chavez, Castro and Che. Chavez has been quite skillful in his rise to power. The problem is, there are people here that would love for Obama to do as Chavez has done, to rule BY DECREE!

    He has admirers within Obama's administration. Mark Lloyd, Diversity Czar for the FCC talking about Chavez:

    "In Venezuela, with Chavez, is really an incredible revolution – a democratic revolution. To begin to put in place things that are going to have an impact on the people of Venezuela.
    "The property owners and the folks who then controlled the media in Venezuela rebelled – worked, frankly, with folks here in the U.S. government – worked to oust him. But he came back with another revolution, and then Chavez began to take very seriously the media in his country. "And we've had complaints about this ever since."

    An this guy is helping the FCC in its look at net neutrality, the fairness doctrine as it applies to the Internet, Radio, TV, etc.???? He is no friend of FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

    As Venezuela’s democracy is destroyed, Chavez with his oil wealth will try to acquire nuclear weapons which will transform the Gulf of Mexico/ Caribbean Sea. This is something the US can't allow. The problem is South American countries already looks at us at the giant to the north, messing around with their internal affairs. Chavez is become more than a thorn in our side, but this administration will not move against him.

    Truth is, they envy him and will try to copy what he has done here in the US. WE THE PEOPLE can not afford to be asleep like the people of Venezuela were. One day, we could be in a similar situation, because we believe it could never happen in the US. WAKE UP TO THE DANGER WITHIN, AMERICA!!!!!

    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
    Thomas Jefferson

    • Cuban Refugee

      Wesley, I like the way you think … Rosie O'Donnell, Michael Moore, and Bill Maher were three of the useful idiots who immediately came to mind when I read your first paragraph. I have Venezuelan friends who believe that, one day soon, a disgruntled Bolivarian revolutionary will do the job necessary to end this nightmare for the Venezuelan people and the world.

      • Wesley69

        Let's hope so for the freedom loving people of Venezuela. They deserve better.

    • Fred Dawes

      you are right if net neutrality is put in place you can see down the road camps and the dead for talking out against people like obama it is starting to happen in little way's but with this law it will become a death camp country.

  • Steve Chavez

    Obama, Pelosi, and Reid wanted the Tea Party to be portrayed as a racist gun-toting lynch mob which then created the conditions for Obama to impose Martial Law which they would have then used to pull a Hugo Chavez and a President for Life. They had full control of Congress and the White House and no telling their motives since the Tea Party was such a threat to their monopoly on power! Glenn Beck's, Al Sharpton's, and the Ed Shultz's/Leftists rally proved who the real racists and the real "foam at the mouth" haters are!

    • Jim C.

      "Martial law"… give me a break. Have you guys made a single prediction that has actually come true?

      The TEA party had no trouble, on its own, displaying its racism…its a matter of public record. That doesn't mean everyone in the TEA party is racist. The TEA party is generally a very confused but well-meaning group of people.

      • LibertyLover

        About the Tea Party. You are either woefully ignorant or willfully dishonest. The Tea Party is far less racist than The Race Obsessed Deomcrat Party or the NAACP.

      • Rifleman

        Jim C., where is the alleged racism of the tea party a matter of public record?

  • jemc50

    Un-freaking-believable! I just saw a report that Chavez has been granted his request. WTH are those people thinking?

  • Fred Dawes

    You can't stop evil with BS, Our enemies are not at the gate but inside the city we have many friends of guys like that little monkey Chaves many who want to make a holocaust here inside this country and if any get real power to do that murder of freedom and millions of Americans that pig would and all the little monkey idoits would help.

  • Toa

    "we may as well order some red shirts for our wardrobe."

    Cuban Refugee, we won't have to, if it comes to that. They will order them for us…except instead of red shirts, they'll be orange or black-and-white coveralls. And as Fred Dawes implied, we won't be wearing them too long…

    May God have mercy on us and grant us repentance unto Life…!!

  • Matt

    Hugo Chavez is attaining all of the dictatorial power the left accused George W. Bush of trying to attain – and they love him for it.

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