Venezuela president tightens grip on economy

Maduro uses new emergency powers to pass two decrees as opposition leader calls for day of protests across country.

    Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan president, has used his new emergency powers to pass two decrees that tighten government controls over the country's struggling economy.

    The first of the two laws, signed on Thursday, limits company profits so they do not overcharge customers, while the second gives the government more control over imports to ensure Venezuela's dwindling dollar reserves are used properly.

    Under the new laws, business profits will be limited to between 15-30 percent, while a central body - the National Foreign Trade Centre - will oversee the allocation of US dollars at the official rate of 6.3 bolivars. The country's currency is trading right now at one-tenth of its official value on the black market.

    Maduro said on Thursday he was passing the cost control legislation "for the protection of the Venezuelan family", while the currency measures intended to "put in order all the handling of foreign currency that comes in because of oil income so it's not robbed any more, so it's not squandered, nor sacked from the people by the parasitic bourgeoisie".

    He had promised to enact both measures before Tuesday's vote on the Enabling Law, which gave him the authority to create legislation without parliamentary approval for one year.

    Earlier this month, Maduro declared an "economic offensive" against local businesses that he accused of inflating prices of imported products, including some by more than 1,000 percent.

    Venezuela's annual inflation has hit 54 percent, and shortages of basic products and hard currency are widespread. The economy is the biggest issue going into local elections on December 8.

    Citizens divided

    Maduro's measures have so far received support from his working-class support base.

    After he forced retail businesses to cut prices over the weekend, long lines formed outside stores across Venezuela, with customers searching for big discounts.

    After Tuesday's vote, Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly president, marched with more than 2,000 supporters from the legislature to the presidential palace to deliver the text of the decree law to Maduro.

    But the changes have been criticised by the country's political opposition, who say 15 years of socialist economic controls - under Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chavez - have hurt Venezuela.

    Henrique Capriles, opposition leader, has called for a day of protests across the country on Saturday "against the crisis and corruption of the government".

    The US also criticised Maduro's government over his new decree powers.

    "As you may know, it's constitutionally allowed in Venezuela, but that doesn't make it okay, because we feel, of course, it's essentially important for the people to have a voice in any country, in any decision-making process," a State Department spokeswoman said.

    Hugo Chavez, former Venezuelan president, used the presidential decree measure four times during his 14-year rule.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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