Mérida, March 16th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced Sunday that the administration of Venezuela's ports and airports will be transferred from the state governments to the national government in order to defend national sovereignty and combat corruption, contraband, and drug trafficking.
The executive order abides by a provision to the Law on Decentralization, Delimitation, and Transfer of Public Power that the National Assembly approved last week. The provision permits the president, by decree, "to revert the transfer of powers conceded to the states for reasons of strategy, merit, opportunity, or convenience, in order to conserve, administer, and take advantage of the goods and services considered to be of the general public interest."
"We are going to recuperate the ports and airports of the entire republic. Whoever wants to oppose it can do so, but it is national law," Chávez declared during his weekly presidential talk show Aló Presidente on Sunday. "We are going to get the mafias and drug trafficking networks out of there."
The transfer of authority back to the national government comes in the wake of last November's state and local elections, in which candidates from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won seventeen governorships, while opposition candidates won five governorships in several key states, including Táchira and oil-rich Zulia along the Colombian border, the industrial state of Carabobo, the capital state of Miranda, and the island state of Nueva Esparta.
The opposition governors have pledged to disobey the transfer of authority, saying it violates the Constitution of 1999, Article 164 of which establishes that "the administration, conservation, and exploitation of the national highways and expressways, as well as commercial ports and airports, in coordination with the National Executive, is the exclusive competence of the states."
In Táchira, Governor César Pérez said he will challenge the reform in the Venezuelan Supreme Court and the Organization of American States.
In Zulia, where state legislators provoked the Chávez government last year by proposing a feasibility study for autonomy, Governor Pablo Pérez said he is ready to go to jail "to defend Zulia," and legislators called the reform of the Decentralization Law "a coup d'etat."
In response, Chávez ordered the Venezuelan Navy to take control of the Port of Maracaibo in Zulia and the Port of Cabello in Carabobo on Sunday. He said any governors who attempt to impede the transfer of authority "will end up in jail," because "no authority, mayor or governor or any other, can oppose the constitution and the laws of the republic."
Chávez explained that since the ports and airports were transferred to the states two decades ago, complicit or weak state governments have allowed criminal networks to increase their control over these facilities, creating "an issue of national security."
The PSUV governors elaborated on this point in a joint statement of support for the transfer of authority. According to the governors, previous administrations have used the Law on Decentralization to transfer power to multi-national corporations through concessions by the states. Thus, state and local governments have become less capable than the national government at responding to community needs and resisting intervention by imperialist states and their corporations.
"It is very difficult for a governor alone to confront the illicit activities of the large mafias in the ports and airports," said Sucre state Governor Enrique José Maestre on Sunday. "There should be just one government. These facilities should serve the security and defense of the nation," he said.
Likewise, Anzoátegui state governor Tarek William Saab said Article 164 of the Constitution establishes "co-responsibility" between the states and the national government for the administration of the ports and airports.
National Assembly legislator and constitutional lawyer Carlos Escarrá said the reform to the Decentralization Law reflects the current government's distinct concept of decentralization, which is that "decentralization is a national policy that seeks to transfer power to the people, not to states, municipalities, or political parties."
The Chávez government institutionalized this type of decentralization in 2006 by authorizing national funding for local community councils that carry out social projects independently of the state and local governments.