by Fausta Wertz
The headlines could not have taken anyone by surprise:
First, a little background: Three weeks ago as he proclaimed himself a Communist, Ch√°vez swore in a new 27-member cabinet comprised of ministers that are both more loyal to him and who have lesser name recognition among the Venezuelan public. Ch√°vez replaced the heads of such key ministries as interior, justice, finance and education, and loyal aides, including his then-Vice-President, Jos√© Vicente Rangel, who, as The Economist points out, was one of the few remaining figures in the government with his own political clout.
By doing so, he centralized all powers in his hands since the courts were already under his control.
That was three weeks ago.
Business News America reported that on Tuesday the Assembly had granted Ch√°vez ‘special powers related to the regulation of hydrocarbons and their derivates, “the electric system” as well as “supervision and control of the energy and oil ministry,” meaning Ch√°vez can proceed as he sees fit without the assembly’s intervention.’
Not as noticeable in the headlines is the news that also yesterday one of Ch√°vez’s top military advisors, Gen. Alberto Muller, confirmed plans to purchase air defense systems to guard strategic facilities, such as refineries, bridges, and hydroelectric power plants. Russia’s Interfax-Military News Agency reported also on Tuesday that Russia could supply between 10 and 12 Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Venezuela.
The Mother of All Laws:
Yesterday’s National Assembly vote was literally out in the open: It took place in an open-air public ceremony in a square in Caracas. The lawmakers visibly approved all four articles of the law with a show of hands. The newly-appointed ministers performed for the crowd who were wearing Chavista red shirts, for the media, and for their boss. After enacting the law, they signed off with “Patria, socialismo o muerte, venceremos” (“Fatherland, socialism or death! We will prevail!”), the motto of Castro’s Cuban revolution.
While calling the Enabling Law the mother of all laws may not be the most delicate way of referring to it, it is the most accurate. The Enabling Law grants the President special powers to legislate in 11 areas:
popular participation; establishing public function; financial and social; taxes and finances; judicial and public safety; science and technology; territorial ordinances; security and defense;infrastructure, transport and services; and energy.
While reading the law (in Spanish), I find the item on popular participation particularly interesting (my translation, emphasis added):
“enabling the Administration the organizational structure to allow the direct exercise of Popular Power, taking into consideration that deepening the constitutional principle of starring and participative democracy is a historical commitment taken up by the National Executive“.
What all that verbiage tells me is that officially the power will now be coming exclusively from the top down.
Further down the document, item #2 reads (again, my translation, emphasis added),
2. “In the realm of popular participation,
To dictate rules establishing the mechanisms for popular participation, through social control, the technique of social inspection and through the practice of volunteering, in the community organized through the application of laws and the economic realm of the State. Also, to allow the State’s institutions’ organizational structure to bring about the direct exercise of popular sovereignty.”
To any of us familiar with Soviet-style “volunteering” and “mechanisms for popular participation”, this particular section will surely send chills down our spines.
The item on taxes and finances allows for the creation of bi-national funds for bi-national programs. What nations and what programs will be involved are entirely up to Hugo.
While the Enabling Law provides an eighteen-month period for the President to enact the laws until there is a change in the Constitution, the law has no provisions limiting its duration or its scope, according to Venezuelan daily El Pais. The President has all the authority to enact the laws of transition and will repeal laws no longer in effect.
I called the Venezuelan Mission to the United Nations and they referred me to the Panorama Digital web newspaper (in Spanish). The website quotes Assemblyman Carlos Escarr√°, who states that the law will be applied in two stages: The first stage, lasting until next September, will prepare the projects. The second stage, for the following nine months, for its implementation.
Panorama Digital has a post on reactions to the law, where the National Assembly President Cilia Flores states that there were no objections by those members of the opposition who participated in the discussion. She also states that people who oppose the law and have stated that they’ll request the Venezuela Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia) to repeal it have every right to use all available resources to that effect. But, as I noted, the President already controls the courts.
Tal Cual calls the new law, “giving Ch√°vez all, absolutely all, special powers”.
In plain words, Hugo Ch√°vez is now officially a dictator.