Saturday, December 25, 2010

Venezuela: Emergency Powers Given to Chavez Endanger Human Rights

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci

Due to the Venezuelan flood emergency that resulted in more than 130,000 homeless nationwide, the Parliament gave President Hugo Chavez eighteen months of special ruling powers. When the newly elected new Assembly takes office on January 5, 2011, however, the weight of the opposition inside the National Assembly will increase. Many therefore think that the emergency powers are just a trick to undermine the will of the Venezuelan people, as Philip Crowley, the US Department of State Spokesman said outright, adding that Chavez "seems to have found new, ingenious way to justify autocratic powers."

The opposition paper El Universal reports that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) is also worried about the term for the special powers granted to Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez for rulemaking and the areas covered by such powers. The Organization noted that failure to set the limits necessary for true control endangers human rights in Venezuela.

The IACHR, like the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, expressed "special concern" that the National Assembly could enable the executive branch to create norms that establish the sanctions that would apply when crimes are committed.

From the Press:

  • Pro-Chavez lawmaker: Enabling Law will have "sufficiently long term"
  • Venezuela's Chavez requests special ruling powers for 12 months
  • Venezuelan Governor: The enabling law makes a mockery of people
  • Hugo Chavez to rule by decree in nine areas
  • "Enabling law shows the authoritarian nature of the government," says opposition
  • Enabling law shores up the socialist production model
  • Opposition: The government wants "to concentrate more power because it's afraid of the people

December 17, 2010

Pro-Chavez lawmaker: Enabling Law will have "sufficiently long term"

Venezuela's National Assembly addressed on December 14 in a special session the request for special powers made by President Hugo Chavez to deal with the consequences of the serious climate crisis that has recently hit the country, said Venezuelan Congressman Mario Isea (ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV).

Isea added that the Enabling Law should have a sufficiently long term to allow the president to legislate during the current emergency situation. He said that people opposed to the enabling law are "opportunistic, electioneering and destabilizing, because nobody can deny Venezuela's emergency situation in areas such as housing, roads and other infrastructure works."

Venezuela's Chavez requests special ruling powers for 12 months

Vice President Elías Jaua announced that the draft Enabling Law submitted to the National Assembly will be effective for 12 months and will allow President Hugo Chavez to have special decree powers to address the emergency caused by heavy rains in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Vice President said that after the expected approval of the draft Enabling Law, "the first decree-laws will be passed in 15 days."

"The President has requested (special decree powers) for 12 months to create a package of laws required to address a serious crisis, mainly the result of structural causes that still keep Venezuelan people trapped in poverty. Natural phenomena occurred in the last decade due to the global climate change have worsened this crisis," Jaua said.

Venezuelan Governor: The enabling law makes a mockery of people

In the context of Plan Arriba Miranda[1] (Miranda, Get Up!), governor Henrique Capriles Radonski delivered certificates for building materials free from debt and household equipment, furniture and fittings to the families hit by rainfalls in Panaquire parish of the town of Barlovento.

There, he said that the enabling law submitted for the prompt approval by the National Assembly (AN) is merely political.

"A chance should be given to the new deputies who represent the country's plurality, for them to debate and discuss important laws for Venezuelans, instead of laws of a political content. If the excuse for the approval by the National Assembly of an enabling law for the President of the Republic is the current emergency, this is simply a mockery of all our people, including those who on September 26 voted the deputies of the ruling party."

Capriles Radonsky thinks that the national government does not need special powers or laws to solve Venezuelans' problems. "Here what we need is will, funds and efficiency to overcome the emergency which, in addition, may not be treated in a sectarian manner and with a political-partisan vision."

Hugo Chavez to rule by decree in nine areas

[…] This is the fourth time President Chavez has requested special ruling powers since he took office in 1999. The bill was passed by a qualified majority with the votes of PSUV lawmakers and the rest of the political parties supporting the government.

Former pro-government party Patria Para Todos (Fatherland for All) cast a dissenting vote, while the parliamentary groups of two opposition parties that were formerly pro-government political groups Podemos (We can) and Frente Humanista y Ecológico (Humanist and Ecological Front) voted against the law.

Deputy Mario Isea (PSUV) said that the Enabling Law is "well grounded," adding that the housing problem facing Venezuela is due to "inequalities accumulated" throughout the years. Meanwhile, Ismael Garcia (Podemos) said that "the country does not need the National Assembly to pass a package of emergency laws. There are several laws (included in the Enabling Law) that are not aimed at addressing the emergency caused by rainfalls, but are tax measures."

Jaua said that the Enabling Law, consisting of four articles, is based on the seriousness of the measures to be taken. "Almost 40% of the territory has been affected. A high percentage of roads have been destroyed; an important number of crops have been lost; 130,000 people were made homeless, the impact on the economy and on living conditions is serious."

Flores announced that the National Assembly declared itself in permanent session to approve the law on December 16. Special ruling powers under the Enabling Law address nine areas, namely infrastructure, transport, public services, housing and habitat, land use planning, comprehensive development and use of urban and rural lands, finance and taxes, people's security and legal security, defense, international cooperation and the nation's socio-economic system.

"Enabling Law shows the authoritarian nature of the government," says opposition

Opposition umbrella group Democratic Unified Panel (MUD) considers the passage in first session of the draft project of the enabling law a serious attack on democratic institutions. "Once again, the government shows its authoritarian, arbitrary and antidemocratic nature," Tomas Guanipa, an elected deputy for the state of Zulia of the opposition party Primero Justicia, said on behalf of the MUD.

"The emergency situation caused by rainfalls is only one the topics included in the enabling law. This law has been devised to transform the state, the society and the economy in many different areas and has nothing to do with the emergency," Guanipa said. According to him, the special ruling powers granted to President Hugo Chavez are intended to address structural problems of the Venezuelan society, "that have not been properly addressed since 1999, such as poverty."

Guanipa stressed that the proposal made by the Executive Office violated democratic principles "because it takes a number of issues out of the agenda to be discussed by the next National Assembly."

Enabling Law shores up the socialist production model

President Hugo Chavez may establish new legal frameworks in the economic sector through the Enabling Law. Although the special decree powers were granted due to rain emergency, the power to legislate is aimed at promoting the socialist production model.

The Venezuelan head of State may establish for 12 months a series of regulations in areas such as production, finance, taxes, housing and land use planning.

In January 2007, the National Assembly passed an enabling law for 18 months to draft socialist laws because in December 2007 a constitutional referendum intended to reform the Constitution would be held. The referendum took place and the government's proposal was rejected. However, Venezuelan authorities continued their plans to define a socialist model.

Although the National Assembly has provided a basis for the new model, the Executive Office considers that it requires further consolidation, since some aspects of the First Socialist Plan remain to be completed, particularly those related to areas such as taxes, finance and production.

The plan for 2007-2013 provides the reorganization of the tax system including the reform of current taxes (VAT and income tax) and the creation of new taxes.

New regulations are expected in the financial sector. In 2010, the National Assembly laid the groundwork for the socialist financial system but more regulations are expected to be included.

There are only a few aspects related to the housing sector in the First Socialist Plan. The Venezuelan Parliament is discussing a law to regulate housing construction. However, the Enabling Law will allow President Chavez to establish more controls to the construction of houses and regulate land use planning.

El Universal (Venezuela)

December 17, 2010

Opposition: The government wants "to concentrate more power because it's afraid of the people

[…] Members of Venezuela's conservative opposition have referred to the measure as "demagogy" and a "provocation". Congressman-elect, Julio Borges accused the government of wanting "to concentrate more power because it is afraid of the people," while Alfonso Marquina, from the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), has denounced the move as "immoral."

Some opposition politicians tried to claim the Enabling Law would be ineffective once the new parliament assumes power in January 2011, a claim that if true would render all laws passed by previous legislative bodies as nonbinding. The Enabling Law carries the same weight as any other legislation approved by Congress.

While National Assembly President Cilia Flores said the new powers would serve to ensure that Venezuelans recently made homeless by record-setting storms, "do not return to risky areas, but to decent homes," opposition spokespeople as well as national and international press have said the law is Chavez's way of circumventing the incoming National Assembly.

Unlike the current National Assembly, in the newly elected one, due to begin its term on January 5th, the opposition has more than one third (but less than a majority) of legislators. Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said the Enabling Law was an urgent necessity given the seriousness of the situation caused by recent storms. "Over 40% of the territory has been affected," said Jaua.

"A high percentage of roads have been destroyed; an important number of crops have been lost; 130,000 people were made homeless, the impact on the economy and on living conditions is serious", he said.

Correo del Orinoco (Venezuela)

[1] A State of Venezuela

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Anna Mahjar-Barducci

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