Hugo Chávez: "I am not a dictator"
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Jan. 15 raised the possibility of surrendering his special powers to rule be decree more than a year earlier than expected in response to accusations that he is becoming a dictator. In a televised address before the National Assembly, Chávez said he could put in place by May the decrees necessary to relieve the crisis caused by floods that have displaced 130,000 in western Zulia state. "To accuse me of being a dictator because the previous assembly voted for an Enabling Law—how is that a dictatorship?" Chávez asked.
In December, the outgoing National Assembly granted Chávez decree powers in order to speed the recovery effort in Zulia. It was the fourth time since Chávez took office in 1999 that he has been granted the enhanced powers. The latest Enabling Law is slated to run 18 months. (Dow Jones, Jan. 15; BBC News, Dec. 27)
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza criticized the Enabling Law as "completely contrary" to the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Chávez responded by dismissing his remarks as "shameful." In his weekly radio address, Chávez accused Insulza of acting on behalf of US imperialism. "The poor secretary general of the OAS is a sad spokesman of the empire," Chávez said. (BBC News, Jan. 9)
We note that Peru's congress similarly granted President Alan García power to issue legislative decrees to prepare the country for the new Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2008. This occasioned little international outrage, despite the fact that García largely used his powers to open vast areas of the Amazon to oil interests—sparking an indigenous uprising.
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