Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Maduro calls for enhanced powers

AFP, CARACAS

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pressed lawmakers on Tuesday for special powers to fight corruption, in a move his rivals fear will lead to them being persecuted for political purposes.

“This is a matter of life or death for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Maduro warned in an almost three-hour speech at the National Assembly.

“If corruption keeps expanding and perpetuating its destructive capitalist logic, there will be no socialism here,” the elected leftist-populist said.

In addition, “I will seek powers to confront the Right Wing’s Economic War against the People. Victory will be ours!” Maduro tweeted ahead of his marathon speech.

It was not immediately clear how the president would secure support from 99 of 165 lawmakers — the three-fifths majority needed to pass the broader powers law. He has a majority, but it is not that broad.

The new law “will be a vital tool for a political and economic offensive in a New Stage of the Revolution,” Maduro tweeted referring to the government under him and his predecessor, former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Dozens of pro-government activists were marching and cheering outside the National Assembly.

Though Maduro’s supporters were energetic on the streets, he leads a country where his appeal is shaky, having defeated presidential rival Henrique Capriles by little more than 1 percent in this year’s election.

Aside from rallying against corruption, Maduro has faced soaring inflation, hard currency shortages and a lack of essential consumer items, such as toilet paper.

The president says the private sector is trying to sow chaos and fuel protests that could topple his government and he is keen to force his hand on some economic supply chain issues.

Capriles dared the government to imprison him and accused the president of corruption, and of using his fight against bribery to persecute the election runner-up.

The National Assembly has already prosecuted two opposition deputies for corruption.

Meanwhile, the justice system is investigating two opposition governors and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Maduro said that “there are no untouchables” in his crusade against corruption, citing several examples of his own officials being arrested.

Maduro, a firebrand anti-US populist in the mold of Chavez, has maintained Venezuela’s activist foreign policy, spending billions to subsidize oil for its regional allies, notably the cash-strapped communist Cuban government.

Amid rampant street crime and other woes, on Sept. 3 an electrical blackout left 70 percent of the South American country without power for hours.

The government has blamed the opposition, saying it seeks to create social unrest. It also has suggested that US diplomats were involved.

The US says it has sought to improve ties with Caracas since the death of Chavez, but little progress has been made. Still, the US is Venezuela’s top oil buyer, purchasing 900,000 barrels a day.

Venezuela ranks 165 on a list of 176 countries in terms of its success in fighting corruption, according to an index compiled by Transparency International, released in December last year.

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