Enabling Laws do not constitute dictatorial powers

In “Venezuela as a National Security Threat Maneuver,” Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, James A. Baer, writes that the Obama Administration’s designation of Venezuela as a national security threat caused a “determined backlash in Latin America and a vote by Venezuela’s congress to end up giving Maduro dictatorial powers to confront a possible invasion by the United States.” Baer’s assertion that the approval of the “Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law for Peace” constitutes “dictatorial powers,” however, is a mischaracterization of the law.

Article 203 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution states that “Enabling laws are those enacted by a three fifths vote of the members of the National Assembly to establish the guidelines, purposes and framework for matters that are being delegated to the President of the Republic, with the rank and force of a law. Enabling law is to set the period for the exercising thereof.” President Nicolas Maduro is the sixth president to employ this type of law for which there was also a similar provision in the Constitution of 1961.

Enabling legislation is a conditional and temporary delegation of legislative power that allows the President of Venezuela to respond to urgent circumstances, such as a natural disaster or the national security threat to the Venezuelan homeland posed by Washington’s unilateral sanctions and President Obama’s declaration of a national emergency. Although laws passed under Enabling legislation are not necessarily the epitome of participatory democracy and have been viewed by critics as involving an infringement of executive power on the legislative branch of government, they certainly do not constitute “dictatorial” powers.

As Venezuela expert Gregory Wilpert points out “enabling laws…are limited by the constitution, have a limited duration, and contain the possibility of revision or revocation by the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, or by popular referendum.” Only five percent of the electorate is required to petition in order to hold such a referendum. Dictatorship by definition does not submit itself to such oversight and limitation on its scope and power.

Wilpert, Gregory (2007). Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. Verso: New York, p 226.

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