CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition accused President Hugo Chavez yesterday of a “coup d’etat” after the outgoing parliament gave him the power to rule by decree for 18 months and pushed through a host of new laws.
A newly united opposition coalition that won about half the popular vote at a legislative poll in September will take 40 percent of seats in the National Assembly from Jan. 5, when it had hoped to put the brakes on the former soldier’s agenda.
But the opposition was outraged by the outgoing parliament’s move to let Chavez bypass the next Assembly by granting him decree powers, at the same time as passing a raft of new laws, many of them contentious.
“We strongly condemn the coup d’etat that is in full swing by the regime and seeks to put in place a Communist system through a militarized and totalitarian state,” the opposition members said in a joint statement.
They said the South American country was at a dramatic point in its history, and they urged Venezuelans to unite and reject the government’s moves “peacefully but energetically.”
Chavez has said he needs the wide-ranging decree powers to deal with a national emergency caused by floods that killed 40 people and drove nearly 140,000 more from their homes.
Meanwhile, the outgoing parliament — dominated by his ruling Socialist Party — has passed several laws that include making it easier to nationalize banks, police content on the Internet, and stop lawmakers voting against their own parties.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said three of the bills dealing with local media, telecommunications and human rights activists posed “serious threats” to free speech and the work of civil society.
“Chavez and his supporters are once again ratcheting up the government’s power to punish critics,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, said in the statement.
The president has repeatedly rejected the opposition’s allegations that the new package of laws — and his special decree powers — are ushering in Cuban-style communism.
“Now the oligarchy is again calling for rebellion and for people to ignore the authorities,” he said at a function at a military base on Wednesday. “We cannot let down our guard.”