Sun, Dec 12, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Hugo Chavez seeks decree powers amid Venezuelan floods

Reuters, CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday he would seek fast-track decree powers from the Venezuelan National Assembly for the fourth time in his controversial 11-year rule due to a crisis caused by flooding.

Chavez said the move was a response to rains that have made more than 120,000 people homeless in the South American nation — but it also appeared to be an attempt to outwit Venezuela’s opposition before a new parliament convenes on Jan. 5.

An opposition coalition made big advances in a September legislative election and hopes to put a brake on Chavez’s self-styled “21st century socialism” when it takes up 40 percent of seats in the new National Assembly.

The current legislature is dominated by the ruling party and opponents of Chavez, who they say is imposing Cuban-style communism on the OPEC member nation — had feared he would rush through laws in the outgoing parliament’s final days.

“I am going to request a facilitating law from the National Assembly. We are going to need billions of dollars extra,” Chavez said on state TV. “There’s no time to lose, not a second.”

Chavez said his Cabinet would send the request tomorrow and hoped the first decrees could be issued by the end of the week.

To obtain the fast-track powers, he needs approval by three-fifths, or 99, of lawmakers in the 165-seat assembly which has been a rubber-stamp for Chavez in recent years.

In the past, Chavez has used decree powers for controversial measures such as nationalizing parts of the oil sector or to increase the number of Supreme Court judges.

In his comments on Friday, Chavez did not specify what decrees he was considering but said they would cover rural and urban land, plus the Constitution.

“There are a series of laws that I want to decree on the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th of December right in the middle of Christmas ... and the New Year,” he said.

Visiting flood zones in recent days, the president has said frequently he will not hesitate to confiscate land needed to build housing for the poor — and challenged the “bourgeoisie” to “open their golf courses.”

He has also threatened to expropriate any bank that stands in the way of plans to finance homebuilding.

Chavez has taken personal charge of rescue efforts, wading through water, addressing refugees by megaphone and allowing dozens to take temporary refuge in his Miraflores presidential palace. At least 34 people have also died in the rains.

Earlier on Friday, Chavez said he would govern temporarily from a tent given him by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to make more room for the homeless.

As Chavez was making his comments about wanting decree powers, parliament approved several laws giving more power and funding to grassroots community organizations known as “communes” which are generally loyal to him.

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