After six months as president, Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, has made an official request to parliament to rule by decree.
The President has spoken out against the corruption within the government and the ‘Economic War’ that is raging in the country. This comes at a highly crucial time as the economy continues to perform below potential and the Venezuelan people face shocking shortages of food and basic goods such as toilet paper.
Former bus driver and trade unionist Maduro was close friends with Chávez for decades, serving first as his Foreign Minister and then as his Vice President. For years Maduro was groomed to maintain the vision that has divided the country throughout Chávez’s fourteen year rule. With a noticeable hesitation in reformist policies, the legacy of Chávez certainly lives on.
In his address to parliament Maduro stated that he requires the Enabling Law to “quickly and firmly” remove corruption from normal political life. He also condemned “the destructive logic of capitalism,” linking it to the corruption his government has been sabotaged with. Maduro’s request echoes those made by Chávez who succeeded in implementing the Enabling Law on four occasions during his reign.
The request made on 8 October, has led the opposition party to accuse Maduro of autocratic aims, with the opposition president, Henrique Capriles, claiming that “they’re going to use the law to persecute and distract the people from their real problems.” The remnants of Chávez’s fourteen year rule are still clear, as Maduro has continued to rule with the economic policies inherited by his predecessor. Currency controls persistently restrict importers while inflating the value of the U.S. dollar on Venezuela’s black market, which is estimated to be worth six times more than the official rate.
The long-standing problem of inflation has worsened, reaching a shocking 49 percent in September 2013, the highest in Latin America. Despite being the most oil rich country in the world, Venezuela suffers from widespread poverty, a high unemployment rate, increasingly frequent power cuts and a capital encircled with shanty towns. The policies of the ruling government have held back the economic progression of Venezuela under Chávez, and now under a man, who has vowed to maintain the Chávez Project of a utopian socialist state. The same economic model is likely to persist for the rest of Maduro’s six year term.
Maduro rules in the shadow of Chávez, implementing the same economic restrictions and attempting to rule with the same autocratic hand. The difference it seems is the level of respect commanded by the current president, which is considerably less than the controversial figure that stood before him. Unlike Chávez, internal party conflict has loosened Maduro’s grip on power, thereby making his pursuit of the Enabling Law all the more pressing.
If Maduro is successful in achieving the Enabling Law, as feared by opposition groups, his potential with this degree of power are worrying. The risk implications are high, both politically and economically. With the Venezuelan people facing a dire restriction of imports and shortages of food, the transformation needed in the economy is sizeable, with structural reforms being vital prerequisites. However, to bring about such a drastic economic overhaul, a new type of leader is needed in Venezuela. As of yet, Maduro remains the parrot of a former icon and not the reformist who can make this difficult feat possible.