Mérida, December 19th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan National Assembly approved a law on Friday that will grant President Hugo Chavez the power to pass laws by presidential decree for 18 months in order to bring rapid relief to 130,000 flood victims and to further engrain 21st Century Socialism in the nation’s legal structure.
Decrees made by the president following an Enabling Law must fit within the limits expressed in the law as well as within the constitution, and the Supreme Court must approve some decrees. Venezuelan citizens may revoke the decree if 5% of voters request a referendum. The National Assembly may also modify or rescind the decree.
The president signed the final version of the law before a crowd of supporters from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which holds a super majority in the National Assembly. The president read aloud a summary of the nine areas in which he is now authorized to legislate by decree:
“Systematic and continuous attention to the vital and urgent human needs derived from poverty and from the rains; infrastructure, transport, and public services; housing and environment; territorial zoning, urban and rural land use, and integral development planning; taxes and finances; citizen security and legal security; security and integral defense of the nation; international cooperation; and the socio-economic system.”
In the area of flood relief, the president will have the authority to govern the way public or private authorities act in response to natural emergencies, according to the text of the law. He will also be authorized “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 communes.”
Chavez said last week that he already had a package of 20 law-decrees ready to be enacted. Among them are an increase in the value-added tax to raise money for flood relief and infrastructure repair, agricultural credits aimed at recuperating food production and the “integral reconstruction” of flood-affected rural zones, and housing laws that embolden the state to “guarantee the right to adequate, safe, comfortable, and hygienic housing,” as mandated by the Enabling Law.
Chavez is also expected to pass law-decrees aimed at bringing the public and private banking sectors in line with “constitutional principles,” including laws against price speculation.
“We have to continue moving toward and constructing socialism, based on Article 299 of the constitution,” Chavez told his party allies while holding up a miniature copy of the constitution on Friday. “The system that was laid out here 11 years ago is just beginning to be realized. That is why we must accelerate, radicalize, and return to our roots,” said Chavez.
Article 299 establishes that the country’s economy is “based on the principles of social justice, democratization, efficiency, free competition, protection of the environment, productivity and solidarity, with a view toward ensuring overall human development and a dignified and useful existence for the community.” It also says the state and the private sector shall work together to promote employment, economic sovereignty for the nation, sustainable and equitable growth, and improved living standards through a process of “participatory democratic strategic planning.”
In his weekly opinion column, Chavez made clear that the Enabling Law that granted him decree power was necessary “not only to confront the calamitous consequences of this prolonged rainy season, but to provide an answer to the intrinsic structural problems of the capitalist model.”
PSUV legislators said they engaged in a process called “street parliament” in recent weeks by visiting shelters and consulting with victims of the recent torrential rains and floods, who confirmed their support for an Enabling Law.
Despite the PSUV’s uncontested majority in the legislature, a lively debate took place in the lead up to the Enabling Law’s passage.
Opposition-aligned social democratic legislator Ismael García argued that the Enabling Law was unnecessary because many of the stated aims of it were already covered in existing laws. García also objected to what he said was the use of a natural disaster as an excuse to move forward an agenda that is not directly related to disaster relief.
Similarly, Simón Calzadilla, another of the few opposition-aligned legislators, gave his backing to the first article of the Enabling Law relating to disaster relief, but rejected the rest of the competencies granted to President Chavez.
Meanwhile, Legislator Pastora Molina contested that the government was capable of managing all of the major issues at hand without recurring to an Enabling Law. Molina argued that President Chavez planned to use the Enabling Law to advance his campaign for a third presidential term in 2012.
A bloc of opposition parties is poised to occupy more than 40% of the National Assembly in January – a large enough minority to prevent an Enabling Law from being passed. President Chavez said during his nationally broadcast remarks that one of the intentions of the Enabling Law was to prevent the new opposition bloc from impeding the passage of laws pertinent to the project of 21st Century Socialism.
During a daily press briefing last week, US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley implied Chavez was at risk of violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which mandates the separation of powers in government. “He seems to be finding new and creative ways to justify autocratic powers. What he is doing here, we believe, is subverting the will of the Venezuelan people,” said Crowley.
Several weeks of torrential rains, flooding, and landslides caused around 130,000 people to flee their homes in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states in recent weeks. 35 bridges collapsed, 264 roads were damaged or destroyed, and 46,000 hectares (113,620 acres) of cultivated land were ruined, according to the government.
The government converted hundreds of public institutions into shelters equipped with hot meals, beds, and doctors, and has pledged to build tens of thousands of new public housing facilities for the flood victims as well as the general population in need of housing.
The National Assembly previously granted Chavez decree powers in 1999, 2001, and 2007. In 2001, Chavez made 49 law-decrees, including a land redistribution law that is considered to have provoked the right wing opposition to launch a short-lived coup d’état in 2002. In 2007, Chavez was authorized to create the legal framework for “21st Century Socialism” in 11 different areas. Chavez signed 26 new laws which regulated the armed forces, public administration, social security system, banks, agricultural production, and the tourism industry, and established public control of several strategic areas of the economy such as oil and cement.