In his first use of the decree powers granted to him through the Venezuelan congress earlier this month, President Hugo Chavez announced the creation of a 10 billion bolivar (US$2.3 billion) emergency fund to provide relief for those affected by the torrential rains that have ravaged parts of the country. 506 million bolivars ($117.7 million) of the newly created Simon Bolivar Fund will be put to use to construct four thousand new homes in areas of the western state of Zulia, one of the regions most affected by the downpours.
“[W]e’re beginning the reconstruction phase”, Chavez said of the initiative on Sunday. “We’re going to build thousands and thousands of homes for people, much more than we’ve done up till now”, he declared.
The Simon Bolivar fund was created by presidential decree via the nation’s newly passed Enabling Law which, according to the Venezuelan Constitution, gives the head of the Executive branch the ability to bypass congress in order to enact specific legislation with greater celerity.
Venezuela’s congress, the National Assembly, approved the Enabling Law by a two-thirds majority on December 15th giving Chavez the power to rule by decree for the next 18 months.
OPPOSITION AGAINST AID
Members of the conservative Venezuelan opposition have decried the passage of the law, using private media outlets both nationally and internationally to denounce what they consider “the road towards dictatorship”.
The opposition, which carried out a violent coup d’etat in 2002 to oust the democratically-elected Chavez from power, has referred to the Enabling Law as an intent to usurp democratic institutions.
“In Venezuela, there is a coup d’etat process being carried out by the state”, said Congresswoman-elect Maria Machado of the right-wing opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Machado, founder of the US-funded group Sumate, was a principal signator of the “Carmona Decree” during the April 2002 coup d’etat, which dissolved all of Venezuela’s democratic institutions and briefly forced the country into a dictatorship.
Currently, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) dominates the National Assembly due to an opposition boycott of congressional elections in 2005 that ceded power to Chavez supporters. The supermajority that the PSUV has enjoyed since 2005 will be diminished in 2011 as opposition representatives who won 40 percent of congressional seats during elections last September 26th take their posts on January 5th. Still, the minority opposition will not have enough voting power to be able to enact or retract any legislation.
In response to the criticisms emanating from the private media and other opposition sectors, the Venezuelan President and his supporters in the PSUV have defended the Enabling Law as a necessary response to the emergency provoked by the rains which has led to the death of nearly 40 people and the displacement of more than 100 thousand.
“They say that this is a dictatorship, but the law exists to deal with the emergency and the crisis that we’re living. And throughout 2011 and 2012 it will be for reconstruction of devastated areas”, the Venezuelan President declared.
Chavez, who has won three presidential elections and a recall referendum over his eleven years as head of state, referred to the opposition’s criticism of the initiative as a guise for their intentions to “destabilize the country” as was the case in 2002.
“[The Law] is an excuse for the opposition to try to take up violence once again, to justify a coup and an assassination”, he imputed.
Indeed, recent opposition protests against a package of laws passed by the National Assembly have turned violent as business leaders and the conservative student movement have encouraged people to engage in acts of civil disobedience against the government.
Last week, the head of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, FEDECAMARAS – the primary organization behind the 2002 coup against Chavez which left at least 17 people dead – made a call to members of the armed forces to disobey orders which they consider to be in violation of the constitution. Chavez has rejected out of hand the assertions of FEDECAMARAS president Noel Alvarez, referring to the declarations as a call to subversion that must be investigated by the Public Attorney’s Office.
“I can only, as head of state, emphatically denounce this call to violate the Constitution and the laws of the Republic made, yet again, by this corrupt organization tied to the worst part of our nation’s past”, he said.
According to the Venezuelan President, instead of manipulating the passage of national legislation for political purposes, all Venezuelans should be focused on expediting reconstruction efforts for the victims of the natural disaster that has befallen the nation.
After touring various areas affected by the rains on Sunday with Bolivian President Evo Morales, Chavez called for a collective effort to construct housing units and overcome the tragedy.
“For this reason, I’m asking for, in the first place, a lot of participation on the part of communal businesses, the Armed Forces, mayors and governors, congress members and the most responsible and serious construction firms”, Chavez said.