On December 17, parliament gave Chavez enabling law power in response to torrential rains and severe floods that ravaged Venezuelan communities, killed at least 35, destroyed over 5,000 homes, and displaced about 120,000 or more people in 11 of the country's 23 states. He asked for one year. Parliament gave him 18 months to deal with the crisis.
National Assembly President Cilia Flores said it was needed to help "people who are relying" on him to help. "So that they can have their street, their highways, public services, electricity, everything to live in dignity, we are going to hear (their) proposals and concerns," then respond accordingly.
More on how it works below. Despite opposition and media criticism (in Venezuela and America), it's not about seizing dictatorial powers, nor has Chavez done it since taking office in February 1999.
No matter. On December 14, New York Times writer (and vocal Chavez critic) Simon Romero headlined, "Chavez Seeks Decree Powers," saying:
By so doing, he "opens a new phase of tension between (himself) and his critics." Provea director Mariano Alvarado said: "This measure reflects the contradictions of a government that speaks about the participation of the people in politics, but ends up adopting measures that ignore the will of the people."
On December 14, Wall Street Journal writer Dan Molinski headlined, "Venezuela Opposition Denounces Chavez Move," saying:
He's attacking democracy and "aim(ing) to demoralize an opposition" with more members when parliament reconvenes on January 5. Primero Justicia, a leading opposition group, said he's "perversely using the human tragedy from the rains to justify these sweeping powers."
On December 17, AP reporter Fabiola Sanchez headlined, "Venezuela congress grants Chavez decree powers," saying:
"Chavez opponents condemned the move as a power grab, saying the law gives him a blank check to rule without consulting lawmakers."
False, and they know it. Enabling law power includes well-defined checks and balances.
Enabling law power is legal but limited. Chavez used it three previous times. Four earlier presidents used it. Venezuela's 1961 Constitution authorized it. So did the 1999 one under Article 203, stating:
"Organic laws are those designated as such by this Constitution, those enacted to organize public powers or developing constitutional rights, and those which serve as a normative framework for other laws," including amendments. A two-thirds legislative super-majority is needed before beginning debate. Measures are then sent to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice's Constitutional Division "for a ruling on the constitutionality of their organic status."
"Enabling laws are those enacted by a three fifths (National Assembly member) vote to establish guidelines, purposes and framework for matters that are being delegated to the President of the Republic, with the rank and force of law."
They're not dictatorial. They must conform to constitutional provisions and restraints. They may only be issued in National Assembly named areas within the time period allowed. In some cases, the Supreme Court must rule on their constitutionality.
Moreover, Constitutional law lets ordinary Venezuelans rescind what's enacted if at least 10% of voters request it. A national referendum majority then decides up or down. For decree law, it's 5%, a tougher standard to reverse unwanted measures.
In addition, parliament, by majority vote, may change or rescind decree laws any time it wishes. They serve to strengthen, not subvert democracy. Critics disagree but offer no proof. The last time Chavez used enabling law power was in 2007 to:
It's by far the most important, vital to protect, used for all Venezuelans, and kept from letting Big Oil exploit it for themselves.
In 2001, he used enabling laws for land reform, improved credit access for small entrepreneurs, greater equity for small vs. large fishers, and increased hydrocarbon state revenue. Its now for Venezuela's flood victims, what earlier political/oligarch cabals never imagined or their US counterparts for the last 30 years.
America exploits security threats, terror attacks, economic crises, competing ideologies, tectonic political or financial shifts, and natural disasters for greater concentrated wealth, power, and repressive control. As a result, wars are waged, jobs lost, wages and benefits cut, and freedoms lost in the name of national security.
Former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel admitted it, saying: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. They (offer) opportunities to do big things" for America's aristocracy, not workers to be exploited for their benefit.
In his 1962 book "Capitalism and Freedom (Phoenix Books)," Milton Friedman endorsed the idea, saying:
"only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When a crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around....our basic function (is) to develop alternatives to existing (progressive) policies (and have them ready to implement when) the impossible becomes politically" possible.
In other words, disaster capitalism or "shock doctrine" opportunities should be exploited so big money can make more of it through greater wealth transfers from the majority to them. More recently, it worked post-Katrina and after the fall 2007 current economic crisis erupted.
If responsibly used, enabling law power is mirror opposite. It benefits all Venezuelans, not solely rich ones. Chavez used it for greater social justice, what Americans haven't gotten since Ronald Reagan declared war on New Deal reforms. Hopefully, Chavez will again prove his critics wrong, getting aid to needy flood victims left homeless by the devastating storms.
Enabling Law power lets him address "vital and urgent human needs resulting from the social conditions of poverty and from rains, landslides, floods, and other events produced by the environmental problem." He may also "design a new geographic regionalization that reduces the elevated levels of demographic concentration in certain regions....regulate the creation of new communities and....establish a more adequate distribution and social use of urban and rural lands (to facilitate) install(ing) basic services and habitat that humanizes community relations."
In other words, he may address the current crisis by delivering aid to people and areas affected. That's how government should work, not by exploiting disasters for profit and regressive social change, the way America does it ruthlessly.
On December 17, Venezuela Analysis contributor Edward Ellis headlined, "Venezuelan Government Plans to Increase Agricultural Productivity after Floods," saying:
Chavez "is implementing a reconstruction plan to provide impulse to the nation's farmers and agricultural production. More than 1,500 small farmers from the area south of Lake Maraciabo in (Merida and Zulia) states will be (helped by) a new government plan to recover underutilized farm (land) and rebuild agricultural productivity....after heavy rains have destroyed harvests and displaced thousands of residents."
He also plans other reconstructive measures, social justice ones when they're most needed. His critics call it a power grab. Recipients, of course, are grateful.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 20, 2010.