Venezuelan Lawmakers Cede Power to Chavez

Venezuelan lawmakers turned over their power to President Hugo Chavez Wednesday. Chavez will be able to rule through presidential decree for the next year and a half.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BRAND: That was the chant from Caracas, Venezuela, yesterday. Lawmakers there unanimously agreed to turn over power to President Hugo Chavez. Chavez will be able to act unilaterally over the next year and a half, enacting laws without any oversight. Joining me to talk about this is NPR's Juan Forero. He has just returned from reporting in Venezuela. And Juan, welcome to the program.

JUAN FORERO: Thank you.

BRAND: Well, so why would a group of lawmakers voluntarily agree to give up power?

FORERO: Well, the National Assembly's 167 members are all allied with President Chavez. The opposition had boycotted elections back in 2005. But the president and his close associates say they want to quickly redraw Venezuela's economic and political sphere. That is what their calling maximum revolution. They want to do things as fast as possible.

And ruling by decree will allow Chavez to do that without the bureaucratic hassles that come with debates and votes in the National Assembly.

BRAND: So what does this mean, practically? What will he do in the next year and a half?

FORERO: They're talking about enacting between 40 and 60 pieces of legislation. Some of them are on military issues. They're talking about creating a national police force. And others have to do with economic matters. In fact, most of them probably have to do with economic matters. And there's nationalizations afoot…

BRAND: And you said nationalizations. Does that include the oil sector? And I wonder - well, you know, Venezuela's a big oil exported to the United States. I wonder if oil companies are afraid of this.

FORERO: It does not include oil companies. What they want to do with oil companies is take majority control of several of the key projects that American and other four oil companies now control in a region called the Orinoco Oil Belt in north central Venezuela. The Venezuelan government would have the final word on where these projects would go, how much oil would be produced.

The oil companies have been mum about it. But they must be grinding their teeth. They're probably quite concerned about where this might go next.

BRAND: I think it's interesting that one of the laws that Chavez wants to overturn is that the law on term limits. Are people afraid that he is going to become this authoritarian dictator?

FORERO: I think there is increasingly a concern about that inside of Venezuela and out of Venezuela. Chavez has already been president eight years longer than any other leader in Latin America, save for Fidel Castro. And he just won an election that will take him until 2013. He's talking about several more terms. So we could see President Chavez in control for decades to come.

BRAND: NPR's Juan Forero back at his home base in Bogotá, Colombia, after spending some time reporting in Venezuela.

NPR's Juan Forero, thank you.

FORERO: Thank you.

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