Venezuela: Chávez issues 26 decrees, extending state power

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez signed 26 new laws regulating the armed forces, public administration, social security system, banks, agricultural production, and the tourism industry on July 31—the final day of the 18-month period during which the National Assembly granted Chávez the power to pass laws by decree. The government says the laws seek to increase state management of “strategic” sectors and public institutions considered vital for progress toward “21st Century Socialism.”

“While Chávez is here, it is the people who command, not the oligarchy,” Chávez said on his Sunday talk show Aló Presidente, broadcast from Caicara del Orinoco in southeastern Venezuela, where several new infrastructure projects are underway. “But the opposition does not understand this… The enabling laws are the laws of the liberation of Venezuela.”

Julio Borges, leader of the Primero Justicia opposition party, said the decrees are an effort by the government to pass as “contraband” the constitutional reforms that were voted down by a slim margin last December. Vice President Ramón Carrizalez countered that the Enabling Law and decrees are in accordance with the constitution. He also asserted that many of the new laws have received widespread debate. According to Agriculture Minister Elias Jaua, the six laws pertaining to agriculture “included more than a year of debate with specialists, functionaries, social groups, and discussions with cabinet ministers.”

Vice President Carrizalez said a further 16 proposed laws were not decreed because they are still being discussed. These include measures governing firearms and explosives, cooperative businesses, and the recently nationalized Bank of Venezuela.

Opposition leaders claim that under Article 203 of the Constitution, the president is not allowed to decree “organic laws.” Carrizalez countered that Article 203 permits the president to decree organic laws as long as they are first approved by the Supreme Court—a standard which has already been met.

The announcement brought to 67 the total number of laws decreed since the National Assembly passed the Enabling Law in January 2007. Among these are measures implementing nationalization of the steel, cement, oil, and electricity sectors; an intelligence law that was later revoked; the promotion of community-run “social production enterprises”; the reorganization of the armed forces; reorganization of national finance institutions; price controls; and agricultural projects.

The last time Chávez had the power to pass laws by decree was in 2001. At that time, the president issued 49 decrees, including land reform and fishing laws that angered large property owners and industrial fishing companies. (VenezuelAnalysis, Aug. 6 via Upside Down World)

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