“Hugo Chavez’s Enabling Act” — now there’s four words that sound remarkably scary, as Ronald Radosh writes:
Five days ago, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez got his cherry picked lame duck legislature to pass a new law allowing him to “rule by emergency decree” for the next 18 months, thereby allowing him to bypass the newly elected legislature, in which the opposition won scores of seats. Chavez calls it an “Enabling” act that will allow him to successfully deepen and extend his “socialist Bolivarian revolution.” You can read about in various press reports, such as this one from the AP, a report from Reuters, or you can read a first rate analysis from this conservative website, The New American.
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There is one good historical precedent for what Chavez is attempting, and it does not come from the history of Communist countries now long gone. Rather, it comes from the policies established by Adolf Hitler after the burning of the Reichstag by an arsonist in 1933. Arguing that the Communists were trying to subvert the German Government, (Chavez, of course, says the anti-Communists are doing the same in Venezuela) asked President von Hindenburg to pass an “emergency decree” to allow the Nazi government to have full emergency powers. All civil liberties were suspended, and mass arrests followed of Communists, socialists, trade unionists and other opponents of the regime. Opposition delegates were removed from the Reichstag, giving the Nazis a legislative majority that did not exist before.
New elections were set for March 5, 1933. By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. According to the Act, Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution allowed the Chancellor to rule by decree in times of a national emergency, without the participation of the Reichstag. But the Nazi Party had only 32 per cent of the seats in the Reichstag, and to pass the Enabling Act there had to be a two-thirds majority. By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.
What could go wrong?