Venezuela has formally handed over extraordinary political powers to President Nicolás Maduro. The legislative National Assembly has chosen to let him rule by decree for one year. In Venezuela, the president is both the head of state and head of government.
Maduro promises “a shattering offensive against corruption”, to start in January.
His approval rating has dropped to the low 40 percent range since his electoral reconfirmation seven months ago, as successor to his iconic predecessor Hugo Chavez. Now, municipal elections are due in less than three weeks.
Inflation is at around 55 percent in the oil-rich country and, although critics condemn the decree move as a power grab, Maduro promises what he calls an “economic war” by limiting businesses’ profit margins.
Maduro said: “We have already started inspecting all the car dealerships in the country. All of them must lower their prices.”
The local subsidiary of General Motors was slapped with a fine for allegedly selling spare parts at 500 percent more than cost, and a consumer appliance retailer last week was ordered to slash prices.
Business leaders blame state-imposed currency controls that restrict importers’ access to hard currency; they say they have to use the black market and pass on costs to consumers.
Critics say Maduro’s move is a populist pantomime. One Caracas resident praised the price slash order, so that: “people can buy what they have never bought”, while another woman slammed the decree as a farce: “This is political theatre! They are fooling Venezuelans! As the election approaches, they promise things they cannot deliver. I am a mother and I’m one Venezuelan who’s tired of this government’s lies!”
Another shopper said: “Forget appliances; the reality is that milk, sugar, cooking oil… food is getting more expensive every day.”
Currency controls were put in place by Chavez, and figures on government spending are still not published today. Critics say Maduro targets opposition corruption cases while ignoring the worst – allegedly committed by military generals and other senior officials. More shortage hardship is expected.