Venezuela’s Congress approves decree powers for Maduro in ‘populist’ power-grab


Chavez-MaduroVenezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday secured emergency powers to rule by decree for the next year.

The so-called special powers permit Mr. Maduro, a socialist, to make laws aimed at fighting corruption and regulating the economy, but critics say that in practice those areas are broad enough that there may be few limits over the reach of his decrees, The New York Times reports.

“With this Enabling Law we are following an order by President Chavez,” said Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly. “He told us to pass all the laws necessary to wring the necks of the speculators and the money launderers.”

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles called the assembly’s move a “fraud against Venezuelans” and described Maduro as “a failed Cuban-style puppet, who aims to impose upon us an economic model that does not work.”

The government’s latest measures were designed more to shore up Maduro than to fix the economy, said Mauricio Roitman, an economist at the Central University of Venezuela. “You can’t blame others for the mistakes that you make,” he said.

Maduro says he has already planned the first two laws he would decree – maybe as soon as Wednesday, Reuters reports:

One is intended to limit businesses’ profit margins to 15 percent to 30 percent as part of a state “economic offensive” against price-gouging. Another would create a new state body to oversee dollar sales by Venezuela’s currency control regime.

Maduro’s original justification for the decree powers was to widen a crackdown on corruption, drawing skepticism from critics who say he zealously targets opposition officials while turning a blind eye to the worst of state-linked graft.

“Why don’t you punish people who have not complied with the (existing) laws? You want the Enabling Law to concentrate power,” one opposition leader, Julio Borges, accused “Chavista” lawmakers during a charged debate ahead of the vote.

Maduro said he will use decrees to protect people from the “parasitic bourgeoisie,” which he accuses of hoarding goods and overcharging customers, Bloomberg reports.

He will pass populist measures to regain support eroded by the fastest inflation in the world ahead of Dec. 8 municipal elections, David Smilde, a sociology professor at the University of Georgia, told Bloomberg:

The proportion of Venezuelans that perceive the economic situation as negative rose about 20 percentage points to 72 percent since April, Barclays PLC said in a Nov. 12 report, citing a Datanalisis poll taken from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2. The margin of error wasn’t provided.


Inflation (VNVPIYOY) in Caracas soared to 54 percent in the 12 months through October, the fastest pace in 16 years. Lack of dollars has led to shortages of everything from flour to car parts in a country that imports 70 percent of the goods it consumes.

“Maduro can now put out laws behind closed doors, without consulting the opposition or his own coalition,” said Smilde. “From a democratic perspective it’s undesirable, because it reduces the public’s ability to oversee and counteract what the government wants to do.”

Although Venezuela is one of the world’s major oil powers, having generated billions of dollars to funnel to social programs, economists say the state oil company is so financially hobbled it is unable to extricate the country from its economic doldrums, Emilia Diaz-Struck and Juan Forero report for The Washington Post:

Still, forcing businessmen to slash prices has struck a chord that could help buoy the government ahead of the Dec. 8 elections for mayors and city council members.

Maduro is looking to “present himself as being stronger, and that he is accompanying the people in this crisis,” said Luis Vicente León.

“This is to demolish the idea that he is weak,” León said. “He does this with populist actions that can connect him to the people.”

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NGOs urge UN to pass Iran Human Rights resolution

Twenty-five human rights and civil society NGOs are urging UN member states to support a resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“This year provides a crucial opportunity to highlight ongoing human rights concerns identified by the international community and Iranian civil society,” the NGOs write in their open letter.

Despite President Hassan Rouhani signaling that he will address human rights issues, they note, “abuses are deeply rooted in Iran’s laws and policies, many of which pose a serious barrier to the executive branch’s ability to push through much needed rights reforms.”

“As a result, the human rights situation in Iran continues to be marked by routine violations of civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights,” say the signatories, which include Roya Boroumand, Executive Director of the Boroumand Foundation, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy 

A prominent Iranian rights activist has accused the National Iranian American Council and its president, Trita Parsi, of conducting a “morally perverse, dishonest propaganda campaign” to secure the removal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Mariam Memarsadeghi, who heads the Tavaana NGO, condemned NIAC’s attack on Senator Mark Kirk as “disgusting” and defended the Illinois senator’s “exemplary leadership” on a range of Iranian human rights issues, including his solidarity with the Green Movement and his “principled stance on the right of the Iranian people to a freely elected government and the full spectrum of civil and political liberties.”

She criticized NIAC’s efforts to mobilize opinion against Kirk as “a morally perverse, dishonest propaganda campaign” aiming to secure the lifting of sanctions against the Islamic Republic and “a soft, appeasing American foreign policy” towards the regime.

“Rather than reflecting and advancing the Iranian-American dream of a free Iran, you echo the Islamic Republic’s agenda in the US, working to discredit any voice, particularly among US policymakers, that stands with the people of Iran and firmly against their oppressors,” Memarsadeghi said.

Many commentators have questioned NIAC’s credentials as representative of Iranian-American opinion, while others have argued that NIAC conducts stealth lobbying for the Islamic Republic.  

Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently chastised a NIAC representative for disseminating Iranian “propaganda.”

Last September, Seid Hassan Daioleslam, editor of the Iranian American Forum, won a major court victory against NIAC after Parsi filed a defamation complaint, objecting to Daioleslam’s research that reportedly exposed the group as lobbyists for the Iranian regime.

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Does U.S. really have power to promote democracy in Egypt?

The United States has little capacity to encourage the development of the prerequisites for democracy in Egypt or to shape the calculations of its leaders, says Council on Foreign Relations analyst Steven A. Cook.

Even if the U.S had the capacity and political will to push for a democratic transition, Egyptian politics and the country’s recent instability compromise the efficacy of outside assistance, he writes for The Atlantic:

It’s unlikely that even if the United States had the resources and political will to offer, for example, billions of aid in exchange for democratic change that Major General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (above) would respond positively. Under circumstances in which Egyptians believe they are in an existential struggle for the soul of the country, outsiders—any outsiders—will have very little influence to compel the leaders to do something they would not otherwise do.  For all the money that the Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis are providing, they are merely helping to enable what the Egyptian armed forces would have done anyway.

The European Union’s democratic conditions for Turkey’s EU membership eligibility are the “only instance in which an outside power had a decisive influence on the direction of politics in a country,” Cook contends.


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Russia’s backward march on human rights

Prominent legal cases and detainees such as the Greenpeace activists, the Pussy Riot punk singers, the former Yukos oil company managers, highlight the lack of fair trials and poor prison conditions in Russia, writes Lev Ponomaryov, head of the Russian non-governmental organization, For Human Rights.

However, the political significance of their cases should not be allowed to overshadow the systemic problems that deprive thousands of Russians of their rights every day and the fact that the authorities lack the political will to do anything.Russia made its timid first steps towards democracy and civil society in the 1990s. Many of the new NGOs founded during the economic crisis that shook the country during this time were financed by international foundations. There has been more money in Russia since the 2000s, but national business is in no hurry to support civil society. Even less now, after representatives of the security services, led by President Vladimir Putin, came to power in the beginning of the last decade. From that moment on, the democratization process slowed down, then stopped, then reversed.

As a result, Russia’s fledgling civil society, which was trying to change habits instilled during 70 years of totalitarianism, is being stifled.

I have come a long way – from a scientist in Soviet Russia who did not have the freedom to speak his own mind, through working as an aide to the famous Soviet-era dissident academic Andrei Sakharov. Then I co-founded one of the first Russian NGOs – Memorial and served as a deputy in Russia’s first democratically elected parliament. I also initiated and led the “Democratic Russia” movement in the 1990s.

Russia can be a strong democracy with a vibrant civil society. For this, we need fair elections, independent and functioning institutions, and respect for the rule of law.

For Human Rights, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, is embroiled in a court hearing in connection with the so-called “foreign agents law”. This extract is taken from a longer article published by Amnesty International.

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