Venezuela’s president wins decree powers to fight ‘US imperialism’

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continued to capitalize on recent U.S. sanctions, winning the right to govern by decree for nine months, saying he needed the special powers to fight to the “imperialist” threat.

As tens of thousands of government supporters surrounded the presidential palace on Sunday, the National Assembly, which is controlled by the ruling party, passed the “Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law for Peace” during special session. The law is expected to go into effect Monday when it’s published in the official gazette.

The measure gives Maduro the ability to bypass the assembly and issue decrees in defense of Venezuela from both internal and external sources.. Maduro hasn’t said how he will use his powers, which run through December, but the opposition worries that the socialist administration will continue to crack down on dissent before legislative elections.

Sunday’s session capped a week of political jiu-jitsu, in which Maduro managed to portray the U.S. sanctions against seven officials as a major threat to the nation.

In particular, Venezuela and other regional governments have been alarmed by the language in the U.S. executive order, which imposed the sanctions last Monday. The document declared a “national emergency” – a prerequisite to enacting sanctions – and called Venezuela a threat to U.S. national and foreign interests.

On Saturday, the Union of South American Nations called on Washington to retract the sanctions because they represent a “threat” to sovereignty and to the “principal of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales, an ally of Venezuela,, said the US needed to apologize for the affront or face a backlash during the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama in April.

Venezuela has been in chaos for months as sinking oil prices and economic mismanagement have restricted access to the foreign currency needed to pay for imports. As a result, staples are often hard to come by and inflation is among the highest in the world.

This month, the government began installing fingerprint scanners at government stores to crack down on hoarding.

Also on Sunday, Venezuela continued military exercises that the government said were to prepare for any acts of foreign aggression. Maduro has often accused Washington of being behind coup plots and destabilization attempts.

Henrique Capriles, a former opposition presidential candidate and the governor of Miranda, said the real war was with the government’s domestic policies.

“Don’t believe the stories and the bad novels, there’s not going to be an invasion here,” he said Saturday in a statement. “They’re trying to distract the people from the gave economic crisis that we’re going through.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., one of the principal backers of the sanctions, called Sunday’s decree another setback for Venezuela’s democracy.

“By making another power grab through decree, Maduro is attempting to distract away from the reality that it is his own disastrous policies that have caused Venezuela’s economy to spiral out of control,” she said in a statement in anticipation of Sunday’s vote. “The truth is the sanctions imposed by the U.S. did not impact the people of Venezuela nor the economy, but rather targeted specific human rights violators within the regime – but these thugs never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”