Venezuela president renews crisis controls, snubs foes

Agence France-Presse

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Venezuela president renews crisis controls, snubs foes


His decision to give the speech in the pro-Maduro Supreme Court instead of the legislature aggravates a political standoff in the oil-exporting country

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro angered his opponents Sunday, January 15, by refusing to face them for his annual presidential address, fanning tensions as he renewed his emergency powers in a volatile crisis.

His decision to give the speech in the pro-Maduro Supreme Court instead of the legislature aggravated a political standoff in the oil-exporting country.

Delivering it inside the court building, he confirmed the depth of Venezuela’s economic troubles.

Maduro said income from the country’s crucial oil exports plunged from more than $48 billion in 2008 to just $5.3 billion last year.

That has meant less money to fund the social welfare model championed by Maduro and his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

“This revenue model has become unviable,” Maduro admitted.


Maduro’s appearance in the Supreme Court was a snub to his rivals in the National Assembly legislature where the speech is supposed to take place.

The new opposition speaker of the assembly, Julio Borges, told reporters Maduro was violating the constitution, which says the address must be delivered in the assembly.

Maduro considers the assembly illegitimate because the Supreme Court has disqualified some of its opposition members.

The court has consistently ruled in Maduro’s favor against the assembly since the opposition majority took over a year ago.

Long, hard year

The opposition MUD coalition blames Maduro for an economic crisis that has prompted deadly riots and looting due to shortages of food and medicine.

It wants a popular vote on removing him from office.

Maduro denies he is to blame, saying the crisis is the result of a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

His speech on Sunday reviewed a year that saw Venezuela’s economic woes deepen.

The year 2016 was “the longest and hardest” for his government since it took office after Chavez’s death in 2013, he said.

Falling prices for Venezuela’s crucial oil exports have aggravated the economic crisis, which has forced people to queue for hours to buy rations.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts inflation in Venezuela will soar to a mind-boggling 1,660 percent this year.

But Maduro vowed to keep “riding out the crisis” through the economic emergency measures.

First launched a year ago, they give his government control of food production and other strategic industries.

Maduro also promised to expand food aid programs for the poor.

Political battle

The political dispute between Maduro and the MUD has dragged on over the past year with no solution in sight.

Vatican-mediated crisis talks between the government and opposition broke down last month, with the opposition accusing Maduro of bad faith.

He insisted on Sunday that he is committed to “consolidating” the dialogue.

But the opposition has ruled out a return to the talks. It plans fresh street protests on January 23.

Opposition majority lawmakers in the National Assembly last week passed a motion declaring that Maduro had effectively “abandoned his post” by failing to tackle the economic crisis.

Maduro branded that move a “coup” attempt.

He launched an “anti-coup commando squad” that arrested 7 of Maduro’s prominent opponents this week.

Maduro ‘strong’: analyst

Venezuelan analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos at the research group IHS Markit Country Risk in London forecast ahead of Maduro’s address that 2017 will see “a continuation of intervention in the economy, more regulations, inspections of businesses, price and exchange rate controls, more inflation and economic contraction.”

Although opinion polls indicate that Maduro’s popularity is low, he retains the public support of the military high command and control over most state institutions.

“I do not see Maduro as likely to be ousted,” political scientist Ricardo Sucre said.

“He seems to me stronger within his camp. They have passed the hardest of tests against all expectations.” –

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