Friday, January 15, 2016

Maduro Steals a March on Opposition Congress

from Yahoo News
Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro decreed a two-month state of "economic emergency" Friday, seizing the initiative ahead of a key showdown in his standoff with the opposition in the oil-rich nation.

The move gives the socialist leader an edge for a few weeks in his maneuvers against the center-right opposition which has vowed to devise within months a way to oust him.

"A state of economic emergency is declared across the whole territory of the nation... for 60 days," read the decree published by the official state gazette.

Maduro's new economy minister, Luis Salas, was expected to give further details later Friday.

The announcement came hours ahead of a state of the nation address by Maduro, scheduled for 2130 GMT.

That will be his first face to face encounter with his rivals in the National Assembly since the opposition took control of it last week.

The opposition's new legislative powers have deepened a political struggle in the recession-stricken South American nation of 30 million people.

The center-right opposition vowed to launch legislative measures to oust Maduro this year and has vowed to fix the economic crisis.

Maduro branded the opposition a US-backed "bourgeoisie" and vowed to defend his socialist policies.

He had already promised to launch an emergency plan for the economy, which was expected to propose new forms of production to reduce Venezuela's reliance on oil exports.

Venezuela has the world's biggest known oil reserves but the big fall in crude prices over the past year and a half has slashed its revenues.

- Political squabbles, economic crisis -

The institutional arm-wrestle threatened to paralyze the National Assembly legislature this week, until last-minute compromises set the stage for Maduro to deliver his annual presidential report.

"We will receive him calmly and respectfully," said the new speaker of the assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, a leading opponent of Maduro.

Leaders have been wary of fanning tensions during the past two weeks of political maneuvering, mindful of deadly street clashes in 2014.

Maduro secured a Supreme Court injunction limiting the opposition's legislative powers to cut short his mandate.

The opposition responded by giving some ground in the power struggle on Wednesday. It bowed to pressure from the court, which Maduro's rivals say is controlled by his allies.

Three opposition lawmakers agreed to quit while the court investigates them over government allegations of electoral fraud.

The court responded to that by lifting an injunction that had declared the assembly's motions would be null and void if the three banned deputies took part.

The departure of the three deprives the opposition MUD coalition of a two-thirds majority.

That so-called "supermajority" would have allowed the opposition to launch constitutional measures to cut short Maduro's mandate, which expires in 2019.

Ramos said Wednesday that the MUD still aimed to do that, though its majority is cut to three-fifths for the time being.

"The crisis cannot be overcome with this government," he said, branding Maduro's policies of social spending financed by oil "a failed model."

Maduro has accused the opposition of planning a "coup" against him. He accuses capitalist forces of waging "economic war" against Venezuela by starving it of goods.

The opposition has vowed to rescue Venezuela from an economic crisis that has sparked soaring inflation and shortages of goods as basic as soap and toilet paper.

Analysts say the political deadlock is not helping resolve the hardship that drove voters to hand the opposition a landslide election victory.

"If Maduro's discourse continues to be the same, the only way the results can change is by getting worse," said economist Luis Vicente Leon, head of the polling firm de Datanalisis.

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