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Venezuelan president uses expiring decree powers

Published:Friday | November 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has enacted a slew of new laws as his emergency powers expire.

During a four-hour speech on national television, Maduro used decree powers on Tuesday to activate 28 new measures, including a luxury tax, a vice tax and the establishment of new economic development zones.

The National Assembly granted Maduro the authority to pass laws without consulting lawmakers last year. The powers, which expired on Wednesday, were supposed to allow him to go after the businesses the ruling socialist party accuses of sabotaging Latin America's biggest oil economy.

But things have only gotten worse for Venezuela's ravaged economy. The country continues to grapple with chronic shortages, suffers from the world's highest inflation, and is now seen by some as on the verge of default.

Decree powers were a favorite tool of Maduro's mentor, the late President Hugo Chávez, who used them to promulgate dozens of laws that dramatically boosted state control over the economy. Lawmakers granted Chávez the expanded authority four times, despite the outcry of opponents, who called the power to rule by decree a thinly disguised power grab.

But unlike the charismatic Chávez, who had near-absolute command over his party, Maduro has confronted growing doubts about his leadership during his 1.5 years in power. His approval ratings now stand at 30 per cent.

On Tuesday, Maduro declared extra taxes on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, decreed a 15 per cent tax on luxury items like yachts and expensive cars, and said that a US$4-billion loan from China would be added to the country's international reserves.

He also said he would adjust rules governing foreign investment to "allow us to attract the investment the country needs in the public and private sector for the development of our priority projects".

Maduro has leaned more heavily on his expanded powers this month ahead of their expiration. He enacted a flurry of decrees last week, targeting labour rights, social development and food security.

- AP