December 19, 2010

As Chávez Gets Decree Powers, NYT Admires ‘Political Sagacity,’ Press Avoids Dictatorial Details

Having been given the power to rule by decree for 18 months, Hugo Chávez appears to be in the midst of completing a de facto statist takeover of the country institutions and levers of power.

No journalist is daring to directly call it dictatorship. You won’t find any form of the word at a December 15 New York Times story by Simon Romero (“Chávez Seeks Decree Powers” — which, by the way, appeared at Page A13), or at a December 17 Associated Press item (“Venezuela congress grants Chavez decree powers”) by Fabiola Sanchez.

In a Reuters story (“Venezuela assembly gives Chavez decree powers”), reporters Daniel Wallis and Frank Jack Daniel took note of outraged “opponents who accuse him of turning South America’s biggest oil producer into a dictatorship,” relieving them of the responsibility for stating the obvious themselves.

Romero’s item at the Times is particularly galling in its borderline admiration for the tactics employed by the man who is now Venzuela’s virtual dictator (bold is mine):

The move was not unexpected. Legislators have granted Mr. Chávez decree powers three times during his 12-year presidency. He used a decree in 2008 to name regional political leaders with separate budgets, offsetting gains by the opposition in state and municipal elections.

Mr. Chávez said the decree powers, which would last one year, were needed to quickly address floods and landslides that had left tens of thousands of people homeless in Venezuela. Facing criticism over the move, he suggested on state television that his opponents needed to take “a Valium, or something like that.”

“Otherwise, they should see a psychiatrist to get some recommendations,” he added.

The timing of the request suggests that the political sagacity that has served Mr. Chávez throughout his presidency is not waning. Venezuelans are preparing to go on vacation this month, when many businesses and institutions virtually cease operating. Mr. Chávez has used such lulls in the past to announce measures aimed at weakening his opponents.

The lame-duck Chavista-dominated legislature also has a sense of timing, saving its final vote for a slow-news Friday, while pretending that the lengthening of the rule-by-decree time frame from 12 to 18 months was their idea. Sure.

Fausta’s blog (cross-posted at Hot Air, originally at the Caracas Chronicles (despite the date of the post, the info appears to be current) outline the powers Chávez requested, and presumably received. A December 15 post at venezuelaanalysis.com goes into further detail about the “enabling law,” which grants Chávez specific powers the legislature cannot override for the specified period:

The areas in which special powers will be granted to the President include: infrastructure, transport, public services, housing and habitat, land use planning, comprehensive development and use of urban and rural lands, finance and taxes, people’s security and legal security, defense, international cooperation and the nation’s socio-economic system.

Article 1.1 of the Enabling Law, for example, grants Chávez full authority for “addressing the 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.”

Meanwhile, Article 1.4 grants the President decreeing powers “to design a new geographic regionalization that reduces the elevated levels of demographic concentration in certain regions, to regulate the creation of new communities and…to establish a more adequate distribution and social use of urban and rural lands that have the conditions to install basic services and habitat that humanizes community relations.”

The law also says that the president can pronounce norms that regulate the procedures of authorities in the face of emergencies, and other “natural” events that require an immediate response to “vital” human needs, as well as relating to prevention and follow up in declared emergency zones, and norms promoting the “rights of the Venezuelan family”.

The president will also be able to pronounce or reform norms regulating aspects of infrastructure, communications, and transport, as well as norms that “regulate the behavior” of private and public entities in the construction of housing in order to “guarantee the right to adequate, safe, comfortable and hygienic housing”.

In the area of finance, Article 1.5 says the president will be able to pronounce norms that update the “public and private financial system to constitutional principles” as well as to create special funds to attend to the results of “natural and social contingencies”.

Other norms the president will be able to pronounce relate to the police and civil protection sector for the purposes of citizen identification, migration control and the “fight against impunity” as well as anything “concerning arms… and their regulation and supervision”.

Finally, Chávez will also be able to pronounce norms “aimed at strengthening international relations” or that “develop the consecrated rights in chapter VI of the Constitution”.

The list of what Chávez can’t do without legislative permission would have been shorter.

In a vaguely-headlined follow-up AP item yesterday (“US, Venezuela at odds on ambassador, Chavez powers”), the highest-level government spokespersons quoted are U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela and U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. No Hillary Clinton, no Barack Obama, no mention of “Venezuela” or “Chavez” in the last two White House press briefings (here and here) and not even a White House blog entry No one in the press appears to have sought a reaction from higher-ups in the administration. I wonder why?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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