Mérida, April 17th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) — On Friday, the Venezuelan National Assembly authorized the transfer of administrative authority over the highways, bridges, and public roadways in the Capital District of Caracas and the states of Delta Amacuro, Zulia, and Vargas to the Public Works and Housing Ministry.
The measure came the day after Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello, who is of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and a long time confidant of President Hugo Chávez, requested the transfer.
Last month, the National Assembly passed a reform of the Law on Decentralization, Limitation, and Transfer of Public Powers to allow the president to transfer the administration of strategic or dysfunctional ports, airports, and other public transport facilities from the states to the national government.
The transportation infrastructure was originally decentralized two decades ago. The Chávez government alleges that this led to the irresponsible concession of public facilities to private transnational corporations, and that in many cases drug trafficking and contraband mafias have overpowered the state administrations and gained traction.
The Ministry will now manage all public transportation infrastructure in the state of Zulia, since the national government took over all major public ports and airports in Zulia last month following the law's reform.
Zulia voters elected candidates from the anti-Chávez opposition to the governorship and capital city mayoralty last November, raising concerns in the Chávez administration that a simmering separatist movement and the infiltration of right-wing Colombian paramilitary troops in the border state could intensify.
In protest against the transfer of the ports last month, Governor Pablo Pérez called for a "rebellion" and the opposition-controlled state legislature demanded that the National Electoral Council (CNE) organize a consultative referendum on the reform of the Decentralization Law.
Last week, the CNE denied the Zulia legislature's request for a state-level referendum because the Decentralization Law is a national issue. Article 79 of Venezuela's constitution states that a state legislature can convoke a consultative referendum on state matters, but a referendum on a national matter must be called by the president, National Assembly, or by petition of 10% of registered voters nation-wide.