- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

2:54 p.m.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A congress wholly loyal to President Hugo Chavez approved a law today granting him authority to enact sweeping measures by decree.

Meeting at a downtown plaza in a session that resembled a political rally, lawmakers unanimously approved all four articles of the law by a show of hands.

“Viva President Hugo Chavez, long live socialism,” National Assembly President Cilia Flores said as she proclaimed the law approved. “Fatherland, socialism or death. We will prevail.”

Mr. Chavez, who is beginning a fresh six-year term, says the legislation will be the start of a new era of “maximum revolution” during which he will consolidate Venezuela’s transformation into a socialist society. His critics are calling it a radical lurch toward authoritarianism by a leader with unchecked power.

The former paratroop commander already has said he will use the law to decree nationalizations of Venezuela’s largest telecommunications company and the electricity sector, slap new taxes on the rich and impose greater state control over the oil and natural gas industries.

A final draft of the law shows Mr. Chavez also will be allowed to dictate unspecified measures to transform state institutions; reform banking, tax, insurance and financial regulations; decide on security and defense matters such as gun regulations and military organization; and “adapt” legislation to ensure “the equal distribution of wealth” as part of a new “social and economic model.”

Mr. Chavez also plans to reorganize regional territories and carry out reforms aimed at bringing “power to the people” through thousands of newly formed Communal Councils, in which Venezuelans will have a say on spending an increasing flow of state money on neighborhood projects from public housing to road repaving.

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