CARACAS — President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela gave himself the equivalent of a big Christmas present — a package of laws that dramatically expands his powers and allows him to undermine opponents — in one of the boldest moves of his presidency.
In a single week, he has used an outgoing National Assembly packed with loyalists to gain new abilities to crack down on critics — over the air, on the Internet, in universities, and from independent organizations that receive foreign funding. He also has obtained broad powers to bypass Venezuela’s legislature and enact laws by decree for the next year and a half. Chávez will probably use the powers to try to strengthen his political footing as he prepares for the next presidential election in less than two years.
Opponents denounced the maneuvers as raw power play before a new legislature takes office Jan. 5 with enough opposition lawmakers to prevent passage of some types of laws.
“What the outgoing National Assembly is doing is taking advantage of Christmas to legislate behind the country’s back,’’ said Julio Borges, a congressman-elect. “They’re approving a bunch of laws that are aimed solely at concentrating power.’’
“We are advancing toward a dictatorship,’’ Roman Catholic Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino told Globovision television yesterday. He said officials should consider “the very great responsibility they will have before history and before God if they try to impose a totalitarian dictatorship.’’
The president said the country’s “parasitic bourgeoisie’’ is griping because he is working to dismantle a capitalist system built to favor the rich. He denied making a power grab for himself.