Chavez defends decree power as democratic, says Bush represents U.S. tyranny

Friday, February 2nd 2007, 6:34 am
By: News On 6

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defended his plans to rewrite dozens of laws by decree, saying his country has a vibrant democracy and that the world's real ``tyranny'' is led by President Bush.

Signing a newly approved congressional measure that grants him broad lawmaking powers, Chavez said it will allow for changes to lead the country toward socialism but denied it poses any threat to democracy or individual freedoms.

``We are increasing power, but it's the power of the nation, national power. It's not anyone's personal power,'' Chavez said at a news conference Thursday.

Chavez lashed out at Bush for saying Wednesday that he was concerned about an ``undermining of democratic institutions'' in Venezuela. The Venezuelan president said Bush is ``more dangerous than a monkey with a razor blade.''

``I pray to God for the people of the United States. I hope they're capable of liberating themselves from the tyranny they have,'' Chavez said. ``Who would be the greater fascist _ Hitler or Bush? They might end up in a draw.''

Relations between Caracas and Washington have been perpetually tense in recent months even though the United States remains the leading buyer of Venezuelan oil.

Chavez's opponents at home have been strongly critical of the ``enabling law'' approved Wednesday by the entirely pro-Chavez National Assembly, calling it a lurch toward authoritarianism. The measure gives Chavez, who is beginning a new six-year term, the power to pass dozens of laws by decree during the next 18 months in areas from the economy to the judicial system.

Opposition leader Manuel Rosales, who lost to Chavez in December's presidential vote, urged his followers to organize against the upcoming reforms.

``We either get to work or we will witness the coronation of Hugo the First, the first king Venezuelan society will have,'' Rosales said.

Chavez noted that under the constitution, his opponents have the right to petition for a referendum to annul any law his enacts by decree, and can force such a vote by gathering the signatures of just 5 percent of registered voters.

``The people gave me the power I have, and it's within the framework of a constitution,'' he added, noting Venezuelans may also seek a recall referendum to unseat him _ like the vote he won in 2004.

``I wish the people of the United States had the power to call a recall referendum,'' Chavez said. ``The U.S. president would be gone immediately.''

Among his next moves, Chavez plans to nationalize the country's leading telephone company, the electricity sector and lucrative oil and natural gas projects. He said the nationalizations, however, will be limited to ``strategic areas'' of the economy.

He also assured Venezuelans education reforms will not lead to indoctrination in schools and that freedoms will be respected.

``There are no reasons of any kind for the Venezuelan people to be afraid,'' he said.