The Council on Foreign Relations has a nice rundown of some of the “organic laws” that Hugo Chavez is pushing through the Venezuelan National Assembly:
The following rundown of the president’s legislative initiatives gives a flavor for how he seeks to cement power:
- Media and Telecommunications. The modification of the Media Responsibility Law and the Telecommunications Law place severe restrictions on the Internet, centralizing access under the control of a government server. They re-categorize the airwaves as a “public good” and set in place harsh penalties for arcane and obtuse violations of the law. The laws require TV stations to re-apply for their licenses and for the owners to be in the country (a clear reference to Globovision, whose owner, Dr. Guillermo Zuloaga, is in political exile in the United States).
- Electoral Reform. The reform of the Political Party Law establishes the crime of electoral fraud. Fraud would be committed if a politician changed parties, voted against legislation that was “ideologically represented” by their “electoral offer” (on file when they registered their candidacy with the National Electoral Council), or if they make common cause with ideas or people who are not ideologically akin to their electoral offer. Sanctions are the expulsion from parliament and inability to run for public office for up to eight years. This law is meant to protect against individuals or political parties turning against Chavez, as happened with the opposition parties of PODEMOS (We Can) and PPT (Fatherland for All).
- Economy and Governance. Chavez is pushing through a block of five laws: Popular Power, Planning and Popular Power, Communes, Social Control, and the law of Development and Support of the Communal Economy. These laws establish the commune as the lowest level of Venezuelan economy and government. They set in place the Popular Power, which is responsible to the Revolutionary leadership (Chavez) for all governing (eliminating the municipalities and regional government’s constitutional mandate). To facilitate the creation of this new governance model, the Assembly is approving the Law of the System for Transferring the Responsibilities of the States and Municipalities to the Popular Power.To cement these new communal laws, the National Assembly is also approving the modification of the Law for the Treasury and National Fiscal Control, cementing the new Popular Power’s role through the nation’s financial management structure.
- Banking. The modification of the Banking Law makes the banking sector a public utility, setting the stage for potential nationalizations, and forces the banks to donate 5 percent of their profits to a social fund or risk takeover.
- Universities. Universities in Venezuela have been constitutionally autonomous. The modification of the University Law removes their autonomy, allows the government to influence their leadership (both elected student leaders and board of directors). It requires teaching courses on Popular Power and communes, and focuses the pedagogy around revolutionary principles.
The National Assembly is also passing an enabling law that allows the president to rule by decree for eighteen months in nine broad areas such as social, economic, territorial, and national security. According to Chavez, he already has the first twenty laws almost ready. While he has not divulged their content, he has made hints that they will focus on the forced acquisition of real estate “to deal with the crisis caused by the rains” as well as an increase in the value-added tax.
“If only Comrade Stalin knew what was going on…”