Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro asks for decree powers

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro late Tuesday asked the National Assembly to give him decree powers for a full year to fight corruption “with an iron fist,” warning that graft was threatening the socialist revolution.

In a sometimes rowdy speech, Maduro said no one would be safe in a corruption crackdown, including members of the ruling Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela.

“We’re going to fight capitalism even if it’s dressed in the reddest of reds,” he said, referring to his party’s color. “We do it here and now or corruption is going to swallow the country.”

The push will be a test of opposition unity and discipline. Maduro will need at least one opposition vote to win the three-fifths majority required for decree powers.

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Maduro Tuesday suggested that the support is in place, saying the decree was sure to pass. The legislature has five days to debate the measure before bringing it to a vote.

Maduro said he would use the decree to make “examples” of corrupt individuals and stiffen penalties as he fights an “economic war,” which he says is promoted by his political foes and the United States.

The opposition fears he will use the power to undermine its candidates ahead of municipal elections Dec. 8.

During his weekly webcast Tuesday, Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles — the opposition standard bearer — said he believed his legislative colleagues would hold the line. He also said that giving Maduro decree powers wouldn’t solve the country’s problems.

“I don’t think this law will bring any economic or social benefit to Venezuelans,” Capriles said. “They’re going to use the law to persecute and distract the people from their real problems.”

The country is facing food shortages, power outages, and annual inflation of 45 percent. Maduro has been blaming the opposition and shadowy saboteurs for the economic woes.

But analysts say 14 years of an administration that has relied on draconian price and currency controls are driving the disruptions.

Maduro admitted there were problems, saying the Cadivi system, created by late President Hugo Chávez to provide dollars to importers and those who travel abroad, was being gamed by corrupt businesses and entrenched elites.

Maduro, who won a contested election after Chávez’s death in March, said the U.S. and the opposition have been attacking him ever since he took office.

“Not a single day in these last five months has there been a reprieve, so that this administration can govern successfully,” he said. “. . . Enough of the sabotage.”

Corruption is a serious issue in Venezuela. It ranked 165 out of 174 nations in Transparency International’s most recent ranking.

Chávez was granted decree powers on four occasions and often used the authority to legislate beyond the issue at hand.

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