July 31, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez's authority to enact sweeping measures by presidential decree expired on Thursday, but lawmakers said Venezuela's National Assembly could renew it if necessary.
Chavez has used the special legislative powers during the past 18 months to seize majority control over Venezuela's last privately run oil fields, nationalize the country's largest telecommunications, electricity and cement companies, create a federal police force and impose new taxes.
The president approved more than 30 new laws but rescinded several contentious decrees, including an intelligence measure that Venezuelans worried would be used to force them to spy on their neighbors, as well as legislation that parents feared would allow socialist indoctrination in public schools.
Ruling party lawmaker Juan Montenegro said the National Assembly, which is controlled entirely by the president's allies, is rewriting the rescinded laws and is prepared to grant Chavez special decree powers again.
"If the executive branch believes it's convenient to request a new fast-track law for specific objectives or urgent measures, it will be renewed," Montenegro said.
Juan Carlos Caldera of the First Justice opposition party accused legislators of irresponsibly relinquishing their lawmaking responsibilities and handing "a blank check" to the president.
"It gave more power to someone who already has total power," Caldera said.
Chavez - a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro - has said he needed the fast-track power to advance his vision of an egalitarian socialist state.