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Venezuela decrees economic emergency in power struggle

January 15, 2016

CARACAS — Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro decreed a two-month state of “economic emergency” Friday, seizing the initiative ahead of a key showdown with the opposition in the crisis-hit, oil-rich nation.

The move gives the socialist leader an edge for a few weeks in his maneuvers against the center-right opposition, which has vowed to devise within months a way to oust him.

“A state of economic emergency is declared across the whole territory of the nation… for 60 days,” read a summary of the decree published by the official state gazette.

Maduro’s new economy minister, Luis Salas, later read out the full decree, which details an economic emergency plan for the country. It gives the authorities special temporary powers to boost production and ensure access to key goods, including taking command of companies’ resources, and to impose currency controls.

The announcement came ahead of a state of the nation address by Maduro, scheduled for 5 p.m. local time.

That will be his first face-to-face encounter with his rivals in the National Assembly since the opposition took control of the legislature last week.

Political squabbles, economic crisis

The institutional arm-wrestling threatened to paralyze the National Assembly legislature this week, until last-minute compromises set the stage for Maduro to deliver his annual presidential report.

“We will receive him calmly and respectfully,” said the new speaker of the assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, a leading Maduro opponent.

Leaders have been wary of fanning tensions during the past two weeks of political maneuvering, mindful of deadly street clashes in 2014.

Maduro secured a Supreme Court injunction limiting the opposition’s legislative powers to cut short his mandate. The opposition responded by giving some ground in the power struggle on Wednesday. It bowed to pressure from the court, which Maduro’s rivals say is controlled by his allies.

Three opposition lawmakers agreed to quit while the court investigates them over government allegations of electoral fraud. The court responded to that by lifting an injunction that had declared the assembly’s motions would be null and void if the three banned deputies took part.

The departure of the three deprives the opposition MUD coalition of a two-thirds majority. That so-called “supermajority” would have allowed the opposition to launch constitutional measures to cut short Maduro’s mandate, which expires in 2019.

Ramos said Wednesday that the MUD still aimed to do that, though its majority is cut to three fifths for the time being.

“The crisis cannot be overcome with this government,” he said, branding Maduro’s policies of social spending financed by oil “a failed model.”

Maduro has accused the opposition of planning a “coup” against him. He says capitalist forces are waging “economic war” against Venezuela by starving it of goods.

The opposition has vowed to rescue Venezuela from an economic crisis that has sparked soaring inflation and shortages of basic goods such as cooking oil and toilet paper.

Venezuela has the world’s biggest known oil reserves but the big fall in crude prices over the past year and a half has slashed its revenues.

The country’s central bank on Friday released its first official inflation figure since December 2014.

The inflation rate hit 108.7 percent between January and September of 2015. Prices of food and soft drinks soared by more than 55 percent.

Some private economists however have estimated the rate at nearly double that.

Analysts say the political deadlock threatens to worsen the hardship that drove voters to hand the opposition a landslide election victory.

“If Maduro’s discourse continues to be the same, the only way the results can change is by getting worse,” said economist Luis Vicente León, head of the polling firm Datanalisis.

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