Venezuela’s parliament gave President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months on Friday, outraging opponents who accuse him of turning South America’s biggest oil producer into a dictatorship.
The move consolidated the firebrand socialist leader’s hold on power after nearly 12 years in office, and raised the prospect of a fresh wave of nationalizations as the former paratrooper seeks to entrench his self-styled “revolution.”
As he signed the legislation, Chavez mocked opposition politicians.
“They will not be able to create even one law, little Yankees,” he said. “We will win ... let’s see how they are going to make laws now.”
Chavez had asked for the fast-track powers for one year, saying he needed them to deal with a national emergency caused by floods that drove nearly 140,000 people from their homes.
However, the National Assembly, dominated by loyalists from his Socialist Party, decided to extend them for 18 months.
That means the president can rule by decree until mid-2012, and can keep opposition parties out of the legislative process until his re-election campaign is well under way for Venezuela’s next presidential vote in December of that year.
The vote was part of a legislative onslaught to push through bills before a new Assembly is seated on Jan. 5. Earlier on Friday, parliament passed a law making it easier for the government to nationalize banks and trim their profits. The banking law also creates stringent operating rules that include forcing banks to give 5 percent of their profits every six months to community groups.
The “Enabling Law,” which means Chavez can issue decrees across a wide range of areas including housing, land, finances and security, has been denounced as autocratic by his political rivals and by the US State Department.