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Enabling Maduro’s Tyranny in Venezuela

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Mar 20, 2015, 1:12 pm
Una resolución del ministerio de la Defensa que permite el uso de armas letales contra manifestaciones ha sido la principal evidencia de aumento de represión del gobierno de Maduro, así como la detención arbitraria del alcalde Antonio Ledezma. (Filomedios)
A recent Ministry of Defence decree authorized the use of live ammunition against protesters in Venezuela. (Filomedios)

EspañolSince the start of 2015, the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been looking for any excuse for the National Assembly — long under the president’s thumb — to issue another Enabling Law. Duly passed, this now gives Maduro the power to issue a wide range of decrees affecting all aspects of national life.

In the build-up came the incessant provocations by the Venezuelan leader towards his US counterpart Barack Obama. Among them were measures announced by Maduro on February 27, the date on which the Chavista government commemorates the anniversary of 1989’s popular protests against the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez with an “anti-imperialist march.”

The unexpected and disproportionate moves included the imposition of visa requirements on any US citizen traveling to Venezuela, greater controls over the number and activities of US embassy personnel in Caracas, and prohibiting several US congressmen and former residents of Venezuela from entering the country.

Of course, the answer from the Obama administration to this provocation was taken out of all context and used to paint the Venezuelan government in a positive light. Obama issued an executive order to implement sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials as part of a “national emergency” due to the “unusual and extraordinary risk” posed by the Venezuelan situation for US security. The move was based on the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act which allows Washington to apply sanctions to countries or specific individuals.

These measures are hardly interventionist: they’re specifically targeted, territorially limited, and in line with domestic and international legal norms. Yet Maduro’s government has used them to fuel a fierce nationalist offensive via propagandistic media outlets owned by, or friendly to, the regime.

The paranoid Maduro has even called military exercises along with Russian troops. He now has an excuse to continue his warnings of an imperialist war or invasion, having been parroted by part of the Venezuelan opposition and many other Latin-American nations.

Member states of the Union of South American nations UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) have not only rejected the US executive order, but have called for its withdrawal. They claim that governments should abstain from applying unilateral coercive measures which contravene international law. This shows that Maduro, under the tutelage of Cuba’s Castro regime, has learned to manipulate democratic mechanisms and the weaknesses, interests, and fears of real democracies, particularly those of Latin America.

This nationalist offensive facilitated the long-sought Enabling Law, which essentially seeks to weaken still further the hijacked National Assembly. It also serves to deepen repression and political persecution ahead of forthcoming legislative elections, which the governing PSUV is set to lose, according to the most rigorous polls.

The “Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law for Peace,” which Maduro requested in parliament in person, authorizes him to legislate independently up until December 31, 2015. This means that if parliamentary elections are held in September of this year — as is probable — the assembly could see itself limited still further in its ability to constrain the executive’s power.

Moreover, Maduro has now been given powers to dictate or reform laws in the areas of “freedom, equality, justice and international peace, independence, sovereignty, immunity, territorial integrity, and national self-determination,” all in the interests of “protection against the interference of other states in internal matters of the Republic.”

But what’s stopping Maduro from using his new powers for his own ends? What national or international institution can prevent him from utilizing them to deepen his militarist and authoritarian tendencies, and strengthen his internal control?

Since 1999, the governments of Hugo Chávez and his successor Maduro have governed under enabling laws, and invariably used these to exercise greater control over society, to control or annihilate opposition groupings, and to destroy Venezuela’s democratic institutions — in particular, the legislature, which should be a genuine political forum for any nation.

In the words of the analyst Ysrrael Camero, the “Enabling Laws in Venezuela have acquired since 1999 a central role in implanting the government’s authoritarian advance over society,” operating through the “disappearance of political debate and the domination of the executive over the entire structure of power.”

It would hardly be shocking if, under this new Enabling Law, Maduro also decrees restrictions over the massive emigration of Venezuelans of all ages, precisely because of the militaristic and authoritarian nature of the Chavista regime, and its sloppy socioeconomic management which has led the country to the brink of collapse.

As Elisa Vásquez explains in a recent article for the PanAm Post, the national government, and in particular Vice President Jorge Arreaza, are already holding forth on the need to regulate the emigration of millions of students, researchers, and professors.

As a result, in Vásquez’s words, “it wouldn’t be surprising if the Maduro government were to create new mechanisms to criminalize emigration and compel all professionals to return whatever money they earned aboard to the state — or rather to the ruling party, which is increasingly the same thing.”

Translated by Laurie Blair.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.