Mérida, December 15th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) –Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday approved the draft version of a 12-month Enabling Law that would grant President Hugo Chávez decreeing powers to address urgent matters such as housing, public works, and finances.
The Enabling Law, expected to be approved by the end of the week, is the fourth of its kind requested by Chávez since first elected in 1998. While National Assembly President Cecilia Flores said the new powers would serve to ensure that Venezuelans recently made homeless by record-setting storms, “do not return to risky areas, but to decent homes,” opposition spokespeople as well as national and international press have said the law is Chávez’s way of circumventing the incoming National Assembly. Unlike the current National Assembly, in the newly elected one, due to begin its term on January 5th, the opposition has more than one third (but less than a majority) of legislators.
Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua said the Enabling Law was an urgent necessity given the seriousness of the situation caused by recent storms. “Over 40 percent of the territory has been affected,” said Jaua.
“A high percentage of roads have been destroyed; an important number of crops have been lost; 130,000 people were made homeless, the impact on the economy and on living conditions is serious,” he said.
President Chávez, who for the last month has been on a non-stop, nation-wide, night and day tour of the areas affected by the flooding, said that the situation in Venezuela in the aftermath of the rains “continues to be critical” and “needs to be attended to by a series of laws that will come out [by decree].”
According to Chávez, “All of those laws will fall within the confines of the constitution.”
The areas in which special powers will be granted to the President include: infrastructure, transport, public services, housing and habitat, land use planning, comprehensive development and use of urban and rural lands, finance and taxes, people's security and legal security, defense, international cooperation and the nation's socio-economic system.
Article 1.1 of the Enabling Law, for example, grants Chávez full authority for “addressing the vital and urgent human needs resulting from the social conditions of poverty and from rains, landslides, floods, and other events produced by the environmental problem.”
Meanwhile, Article 1.4 grants the President decreeing powers “to design a new geographic regionalization that reduces the elevated levels of demographic concentration in certain regions, to regulate the creation of new communities and…to establish a more adequate distribution and social use of urban and rural lands that have the conditions to install basic services and habitat that humanizes community relations.”
The law also says that the president can pronounce norms that regulate the procedures of authorities in the face of emergencies, and other “natural” events that require an immediate response to “vital” human needs, as well as relating to prevention and follow up in declared emergency zones, and norms promoting the “rights of the Venezuelan family”.
The president will also be able to pronounce or reform norms regulating aspects of infrastructure, communications, and transport, as well as norms that “regulate the behavior” of private and public entities in the construction of housing in order to “guarantee the right to adequate, safe, comfortable and hygienic housing”.
In the area of finance, Article 1.5 says the president will be able to pronounce norms that update the “public and private financial system to constitutional principles” as well as to create special funds to attend to the results of “natural and social contingencies”.
Other norms the president will be able to pronounce relate to the police and civil protection sector for the purposes of citizen identification, migration control and the “fight against impunity” as well as anything “concerning arms… and their regulation and supervision”.
Finally, Chavez will also be able to pronounce norms “aimed at strengthening international relations” or that “develop the consecrated rights in chapter VI of the Constitution”.
The law is expected to be passed on Thursday.
Government response to opposition reactions
In response to the law’s imminent approval, a group of opposition legislators declared a symbolic state of “emergency” outside of the Organization of American States (OAS) Caracas offices. The legislators called the law a “blow to democracy” and demanded the OAS “take a position” on the matter. Some opposition lawmakers have even suggested that the law, along with a number of other pro-Revolution laws currently under discussion, would become void once the new assembly begins legislating in a couple of weeks.
International mainstream media outlets suggested that the new law was planned to give Chávez powers he might lose as the incoming National Assembly takes office in early January.
This morning the Miami Herald published an article with the subheading, “Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is poised to win approval for a law that would give him sweeping new powers,” in which it wrote that “opposition leaders slammed the move and said the government was using the current flood disaster…as an excuse to concentrate yet more power in the presidency.”
Also on Wednesday, the New York Times published their version of the story entitled, “Chávez Seeks Decree Power in Venezuela,” saying the “move was not unexpected” and that the “timing of the request suggests that the political sagacity that has served Mr. Chávez throughout his presidency has not waned.”
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal wrote that besides “neutering the new congress, the measure also aims to demoralize an opposition that was energized by winning” 68 seats in the incoming National Assembly and that members of the opposition were asking themselves if “the former paratrooper and coup plotter will agree to hand over power should he lose 2012 national [presidential] elections.”
Iris Varela, legislator of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), stated on Wednesday that opposition claims that the new law is undemocratic are “contradictory.” Speaking to the press, Varela affirmed that many of “these same opposition legislators have participated in conspiracy and coup plots, which is why they will never be willing to provide President Hugo Chávez Frías the judicial instruments he needs to govern for the benefit of the people.”
Varela also affirmed that there is no aspect of the Enabling Law that is not directly related to the situation faced by millions of Venezuelans in the aftermath of the storms.
PSUV legislator Manuel Villalba questioned the opposition’s intentions in criticizing the Enabling Law. “They [the opposition] criticize the Enabling Law without any arguments, only because it’s President Chávez who requests it, but they don’t criticize Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos who declared a state of emergency in his country, securing himself a series of special powers.”
Meanwhile, PSUV legislator Calixto Ortega responded to opposition rumors that laws approved by the current assembly would become void when the new assembly takes office on January 5th, 2010. “Making affirmations of that nature,”said Ortega, “amounts to being aware that one is shamelessly lying.”
“All of the laws that are approved in this National Assembly, all of the laws that were approved in the last National Assembly…[All] those laws, while they are not revoked by constitutionally approved means and while they don’t contradict the National Constitution, maintain total and absolute vigilance” Ortega stated.