U.S. says Chavez subverting will of Venezuelans

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Venezue-lan President Hugo Chavez is using autocratic powers to subvert the will of the people, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday after the  socialist leader said he would rule by decree for a year.

Today, Venezuela’s National Assembly is due to grant  Chavez the authority to fast-track laws in a move that  undermines a bloc of opposition lawmakers who join parliament  next month.

Chavez, a leading U.S. critic, has ruled by decree three  times before during his 11 years in power and says he needs the  authority again to deal with a national emergency caused by  floods that killed 40 people and left almost 140,000 homeless.

“This is the fourth time that President Chavez has employed  one of these decrees. He seems to be finding new and creative  ways to justify autocratic powers,” said State Department  spokesman Philip Crowley.

Once approved, Chavez will be able to issue laws across a  wide range of areas including housing, land, finances and  security. On Monday, he announced a sales tax hike as among the  decrees and analysts expect new economic measures are likely.

Private banks and property owners are bracing themselves  for another wave of nationalizations by the Cuba ally, who has  taken Venezuela down a more radical route in an effort to  entrench “21st century socialism.”

The Socialist Party that dominates Venezuela’s Assembly has  been rushing laws to promote a communal economy and a clutch of  bills increasing Chavez’s control over South America’s top oil  exporter before more opposition lawmakers are sworn-in next  month.
“What he is doing here, we believe, is, you know,  subverting the will of the Venezuela people,” Crowley said.

Chavez’s opponents are furious about the decree plan and  the wave of legislation. There have been small-scale protests  and skirmishes outside the National Assembly.

Government supporters wielding sticks and stones attacked a  student march in the center of Caracas, a Reuters witness said.  The students reported 13 injuries in the demonstration of about  500 people against a bill they say limits university autonomy.

The Organization of American States’ human rights body, the  Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, also criticized the  steps taken by Chavez to rush through controversial  legislation. It includes rules that put pressure on an  opposition TV station, limits on Internet content and  restrictions on foreign funding of nongovernmental groups.

Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chaderton, rejected  the criticism and asserted that members of the rights body  worked for the CIA. He accused them of silence on abuses  carried out by the United States.

Supporters of Chavez say he is redressing years of  imbalance and has encouraged democracy by giving power and  funds to grass-roots groups.

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