Thursday, November 21, 2013

Venezuela: President To Decree Economic Reforms

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a pair of economic changes that will be set forth via controversial decree powers granted to him this week.

One of the new laws will place a limit on the profits gained by businesses to 15-30% while another law will create a new government body to help reorganize the distribution of foreign currency.

Maduro said that he will sign the decrees into law later today and claimed that public inspectors will visit businesses this weekend that he accused of grossly inflating prices.

Enough is enough, loan sharks and thieves!” exclaimed Maduro at a march of pro-government student groups in Caracas this afternoon. 

Earlier this month, Maduro launched what he deemed as an “economic offensive” against “bourgeois parasites” that included sending soldiers to occupy the Daka electronics chain.  Thousands of people flocked to the stores hoping to take advantage of reduced prices on goods though looters were seen in at least one location.

Opposition politicos have expressed their displeasure with Maduro’s recent actions and have called on Venezuelans to take part in nationwide protests this Saturday.

“Maduro, we're going to show you the power the Venzuelan people have,” declared former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.  “Milk, paper, chicken and meat won’t suddenly appear,” added Capriles in reference to shortages of basic food items in groceries and markets.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department also criticized Maduro for pushing through the Enabling Law that will permit him to pass laws without legislative approval during the next twelve months.

"As you may know, it's constitutionally allowed in Venezuela, but that doesn't make it okay, because we feel, of course, it's essentially important for the people to have a voice in any country, in any decision-making process," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

In response, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. government of “interfering” in the country’s affairs and of conspiring with the opposition in a “plan to disavow the Constitution”.

Venezuelan legislators passed the Enabling Law on Tuesday with the minimum three-fifths approval required.  The key ninety-ninth vote in favor of the proposal was obtained when an opposition congresswoman accused of malfeasance was stripped of her powers and substituted with a parliamentarian representing the ruling party.  Capriles blasted the government for this move that he deemed as “judicial corruption.”

Maduro acquired for the first time the same power granted to several of his predecessors over the past three decades.  The late Hugo Chavez ruled via decree during a third of his fourteen years in office and used these powers to nationalize companies, create taxes and increase labor rights.

The latest chapter in the tug-of-war between the government and opposition comes weeks prior to the local elections of December 8th. For Jason Marczak, director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, Maduro may be looking for a clear electoral advantage over his political foes:
One possibility is that he is seeking to suppress the opposition's votes on December 8 by injecting heightened levels of fear in the streets. It is well known that Venezuelans have doubts about how secret their voting booths really are. This heightened tension will worry Venezuelans that a vote for the opposition might end up meaning a lost job, a lost university slot, or bad housing. 

The other possibility is far worse. Maduro may have come to the conclusion that there is no way for the PSUV to win the elections. As a result, it is better not to have them at all. Cancelling the elections requires violence. His Bolivarian Militias may well have orders to create violence, looting, and fighting. This would translate into the perfect excuse to "postpone" the vote to calmer days.
Video Source– YouTube via NTDTV (This video was uploaded prior to the congressional approval of the Enabling Law).

Online Sources – The Huffington Post; Reuters; Businessweek; El Pais; El Universal;; El Nacional

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