The Congress of Venezuela has passed legislation giving President Hugo Chávez new powers to make sweeping changes to 11 broadly defined “strategic eras”, including the economy, the energy industry, and the military.
Chávez, who was re-elected in December with over 60% of the popular vote, called the passage of the legislation the beginning of a new era of “maximum revolution” to transform Venezuela into a socialist society.
The new powers will be used for the socialization of the largest telecommunications company and electricity sector, enact a more progressive tax system, curb the independence of the national bank and place the oil and natural gas industries under state control. The oil and gas companies have been given until May 1 to surrender control to the state, with the foreign companies staying on as minority partners. Those that fail to meet the deadline will face total expropriation.
The structure of government is also facing dramatic changes, with the creation of 16,000 community councils that give regular Venezuelans direct control over an increased budget for various neighborhood-based projects, including social housing, road repair, and other local issues.
Chávez has also pushed for the creation of a single political party to push forward the revolutionary process, a move that would consolidate the often chaotic pro-Chávez movement currently composed of a variety of political parties, social movements, and grassroots organizations. Chávez insisted that the new party should be built “from the base” of the popular committees composed of working people that fought and won the recent elections.
The United States has responded with hostility to the changes in Venezuela. In 2002 the Bush regime backed a failed military coup against the Chávez government. John Negroponte, US Director of National Intelligence has since slammed Chávez as “threatening to democracies in the region.”
Venezuela rejected the accusation and pointed to Negroponte’s own role in subverting democracy in Latin America during his tenure as US Ambassador to Honduras (1981-85) when he supported the Honduran military in it’s genocidal “dirty war” against indigenous people and backed the Contras, a right-wing terrorist group that fought the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Despite the struggles and upheavals during the Chávez administration, Venezuela has produced impressive economic growth that has benefited working people. State funds from Chavez’ previous socialization of sections of the oil sector have been used in large part to introduce a wide range of social programs aimed at the vast majority of Venezuelans who live in poverty. The programs include the health ‘mission’ Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighbourhood) which has brought free health and dental care clinics for the first time to millions of Venezuelans. Education programs have also been responsible for making Venezuela only the second country in the hemisphere to be declared ‘Illiteracy Free’ by the United Nations after Cuba.