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Venezuela's Maduro closes in on powers by decree

14 november 2013, 10:53
0
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. ©AFP
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. ©AFP
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro was a step closer to getting the votes he needs to govern by decree after his ruling party ousted an opposition lawmaker from parliament on Tuesday, AFP reports.

Opposition deputy Maria Mercedes Aranguren walked out of the unicameral National Assembly after lawmakers voted to expel her and remove her parliamentary immunity.

Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is one vote shy of the three-fifths majority it needs to give the leftist leader the power to rule by decree for one year.

Aranguren was elected as a PSUV candidate but she has since moved to the opposition and faces embezzlement charges.

She will be replaced by her alternate, Carlos Flores, who is considered a "Chavista," a follower of the doctrine of late leader Hugo Chavez who is expected to vote for the presidential "enabling law."

Maduro asked for the special legislative powers last month, arguing that he needed them to fight corruption and an "economic war" against his government amid soaring inflation at 54 percent.

The Chavez protege already used his authority over the weekend to cut prices at appliance retail stores and deploy troops to guard the shops as people hunting for bargains formed massive lines.

The National Assembly is expect to vote on the "enabling law" this week.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refused to concede defeat to Maduro in the April presidential election, said the parliamentary move was a "fraud against Venezuelans."

"This is not how you debate the laws of the country," he said.

For his part, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello recalled that Aranguren "was elected with votes from Chavismo and her substitute is a Chavista."

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that there was enough evidence to put Aranguren on trial on charges of embezzling public funds.

But the opposition says the accusation is part of a ruling party strategy to give Maduro the power to rule by decree.

In a five-minute address to parliament, Aranguren said her ouster was "political retaliation" and that she had "proof that I don't have one cent that belongs to the people of Venezuela."

Lawmaker Pedro Carreno, who led the investigation into the embezzlement case, said Aranguren had "direct responsibility" in irregular payments of $4.6 million to companies while she held public office in the state of Monagas.

The parliamentary maneuver comes less than a month before municipal elections that are seen as a key test of strength six months after Maduro's contested election to replace Chavez.

Maduro says he would use the extraordinary powers to impose caps on private sector profits and crack down on speculators.

He appealed for calm Monday after his decision to impose price cuts sparked a rush to electronics stores which he accused of inflating prices.

Maduro accused the opposition of stoking violence at the stores and 28 people were arrested in the commotion. He said the measure would be extended to toys, cars and clothing.

But critics blame the country's economic woes on the government-imposed fixed exchange rate and price controls, saying they have led to shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper, rice and meat.

Capriles said the government was in negotiations to sell oil assets and gold reserves worth $1.8 billion to cover its "currency needs."

He added that Venezuela is seeking a $3 billion line of credit to pay the debt owed by the government's currency agency, Cadivi, to Venezuelan importers.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said the state oil monopoly PDVSA, which oversees the world's largest proven oil reserves, will issue $4.5 billion in bonds -- a move that analysts said was expected to alleviate the foreign exchange market.

Venezuela makes a limited number of dollars available for imports at 6.3 bolivars to the dollar but the greenback costs almost eight times more on the black market.

Business people say the dollar shortage forces them to use the black market exchanges to buy imported goods, causing prices to soar.

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