Venezuela's Congress on Wednesday granted President Hugo Chavez powers to rule by decree for 18 months as he tries to force through nationalizations key to his self-styled leftist revolution.
The vote allows anti-U.S. leader Chavez, who has been in power since 1999, to deepen state control of the economy.
The lawmakers, all loyal to Chavez after opposition parties boycotted the 2005 congressional elections, flaunted their populist credentials by taking the unusual step of holding their vote in public in a square in Caracas.
"We in the National Assembly will not waver in granting President Chavez an enabling law so he can quickly and urgently set up the framework for resolving the grave problems we have," said congressional Vice-President Roberto Hernandez.
The economic reforms are set to work in tandem with increased political centralization. Chavez is forging a single party to lead his radical reforms, stripping the central bank of autonomy and seeking indefinite re-election.
Chavez has targeted the oil industry and utilities, affecting many foreign owners and shareholders.
The opposition accuses Chavez of being a tyrant in the making, taking a slow-burning approach to following Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Chavez argues he will always tolerate opposition and will step down if he loses an election.
Opposition politician and newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff on Tuesday wrote an editorial in his Tal Cual newspaper drawing parallels between the enabling law and Cuban Communism and European fascism in the 1930s.
The protest came as lawmakers in the entirely pro-Chavez National Assembly announced they would postpone until next Tuesday a session to grant final approval of a so-called "enabling law" allowing Chavez to enact laws by decree during an 18-month period. Chavez is seeking special powers to quickly push through changes from nationalizing electrical companies to imposing new taxes on the rich.
Many protesters said the measure would give Chavez carte blanche to legislate in a list of vaguely specified areas without checks or balances.
"It gives him total power," said Greys Pulido, 40. "We don't want a dictatorship."
Chavez, who was re-elected by a wide margin last month, says he is committed to democracy and is overseeing changes that will give a greater voice in decision-making to poor Venezuelans.
Opposition leaders presented the National Assembly with a document demanding their voices be heard as the government draws up the "enabling law," plus separate constitutional reforms that could eliminate presidential term limits, which now bar Chavez from running in 2012.
CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced plans Monday to nationalize the country's electrical and telecommunications companies, calling them "strategic sectors" that should be in the hands of the nation.How will they be able to watch CANTV when there's no electricity thanks to the incompetent cronies Chavez will install at his new power station? Not that it'll be worth watching any more.
The New York Stock Exchange immediately halted trading in CANTV, Venezuela's largest publicly traded company, which was singled out in Chavez' speech. The decision was also likely to affect Electricidad de Caracas, owned by AES Corp.
It was the boldest move by the Venezuelan leader since he was re-elected by a wide margin last month promising to a more radical turn toward socialism in Venezuela.
"All of those sectors that in an area so important and strategic for all of us as is electricity — all of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized, Chavez said in a televised speech after swearing in a new Cabinet.
"C.A. Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela (CANTV), let it be nationalized," Chavez said. "The nation should recover its property of strategic sectors."
Chavez threatened last August to nationalize CANTV, a Caracas-based former state firm that was privatized in 1991, unless it adjusted its pension payments to current minimum wage levels, which have been repeatedly increased by his government.
Mexico's top electoral court has rejected claims July's presidential election was riddled with fraud.
The court decided not to order a full recount of votes from the disputed election, as demanded by leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Mr Lopez Obrador narrowly lost the election according to the official count. He said the ballot was rigged.
Correspondents say the court is now almost certain to make conservative candidate Felipe Calderon the winner.
Mr Lopez Obrador has warned of a campaign of protests against a Calderon government.
The ruling clears the way for Mr Calderon to be declared president-elect - but Mexico's political crisis is not yet over, the BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports.
Mr Lopez Obrador has spoken of forming a parallel government to fight what he calls this electoral injustice.
Our correspondent says that is likely to mean a continuation of the massive street protests that have blocked much of the capital during the past month.
Supporters of Mexico's left-wing presidential candidate have pledged to place his rival "under siege" if he is declared winner of the disputed poll.
A spokesman for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's party said Felipe Calderon would not be able to operate outside his office if he was made president.
Mr Lopez Obrador disputes the official results which give a narrow victory to his rival and wants a full recount.
A partial recount has been completed, but the results are not yet known.
Election officials have until 6 September to declare a president-elect or annul the election.
If declared the victor, Mr Calderon "will be a president under siege... he will not be able to operate outside his office", said Gerardo Fernandez, of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).
Protesters have also pledged to disrupt outgoing President Vicente Fox's last state-of-the-nation address on 1 September. The day "will not be a picnic", Mr Fernandez said.
Mr Lopez Obrador's supporters clashed with police outside the Congress building on Tuesday, for the first time since they began camping out in Mexico City in protest at the election result.
At least eight people were injured in the scuffles which only lasted a few minutes but saw police use batons and teargas to break up the crowd.
Federal police have denied accusations that they were heavy-handed.
Mr Lopez Obrador has alleged fraud after losing by some 240,000 votes, and has called for a full recount of the 41 million votes cast in the 2 July poll.
Earlier this week, Mr Calderon - the candidate of President Fox's National Action Party - said he was confident the court-imposed recount of votes from 9% of polling centres would confirm his win.
Mr Fox has said he will take all the necessary actions to ensure that whoever is declared president-elect in September is allowed to assume power.
Mexican riot police fired tear gas and used clubs to break up a protest by supporters of left-wing presidential challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.Shortly after the Beeb published this, they changed it.
Leftist lawmakers were among at least 30 people injured in the scuffles outside Congress in Mexico City.
Mr Lopez Obrador's supporters have been camped out in protest at the 2 July election they say was stolen by conservative rival Felipe Calderon.
This is the first time the authorities have used force on the protesters.
Mr Lopez Obrador later told his supporters that the events showed the authorities are "taking off their masks and putting aside their talk of supposed legality and respect".
Mr Lopez Obrador lost the election by 240,000 votes. He alleged fraud, and has since led a mass civil disobedience campaign to demand a full recount.
A court-imposed recount of votes from 9% of polling centres has been completed but the result has not yet been announced.
Mr Calderon told a news conference he was confident the recount would confirm his victory, and called on Mr Lopez Obrador to "reconsider his attitude".
Colombia has been shocked by claims that one of its most celebrated kidnap victims has had a love child with a guerrilla captor at a secret jungle prison camp.
Clara Rojas, who was running for vice-president to the French Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt when they were seized by left-wing Farc rebels four years ago, reportedly gave birth to a boy, now two years old, after a consensual relationship with a Farc guerrilla.
Last year Chavez dismissed the horse image saying "it's not even Venezuelan, it's an imperialist horse" after researching that it was originally designed by a British diplomat. But he cited historical reasons for the change.So basically, he added a machete to symbolize his rule, and some bananas, also to symbolize his rule. I guess we should be grateful he didn't add "Allahu Akbar"-and a big full-color picture of himself saluting-to the flag as well.
"The horse now faces left with its head forward to the future, a white, free, untamed horse, as our nation is free as never before," lawmaker Cilia Flores said late on Tuesday after the law was passed.
A machete, a bow and arrow and tropical fruits and flowers were also added to the coat of arms to represent Venezuela's rural peasants and indigenous people.
The Monroe Doctrine seems to have given way to the "Moan No" doctrine - as in: "Mr President, we've just heard that another Latin American country has elected a wild-eyed populist." "Oh, noooooo…" When Mr Bush last paid a visit to the region - to the Summit of the Americas in Argentina last autumn - it was a fiasco. His idea for a hemispheric free trade agreement was dead even before he stepped off the plane.That "Monroe/Moan No Doctrine" is worthy of Steyn himself.
This seems to me the really big story of 2006 - and yet virtually no one is paying it any attention. And it's not as if the new populists in Latin America aren't looking for some attention. Only last week President Chávez called Tony Blair "a pawn of imperialism, trying now to attack us from Europe", and "the main ally of Hitler" - as he has taken to calling Mr Bush.
"The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the US president has no limits," Chávez recently declared. "I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W Bush."
Now if Mr Chávez were a Muslim leader this would be front-page news. But because he says it in Spanish, everyone just yawns. Come on folks, let's do some geography. It's just over 2,000 miles from Washington to Caracas. It's nearly 7,000 miles to Kabul. And although his supporters don't go in for suicide bombing, Mr Chávez is sitting on 6.5 per cent of the world's oil reserves - more than the whole of North America, including Mexico and Canada.
The naive explanation for this strange indifference to Latin America is that since the end of the Cold War it doesn't matter. Rubbish. It mattered enough to Monroe and Roosevelt, long before the Soviet Union came on the scene. And it should matter even more today, for two reasons.
It is too early to say exactly what Morales and MAS will do. He appointed his cabinet only last week but already alarm bells have begun to ring; the minister responsible for the economy is Carlos Villegas, a leftwing academic from the San Andrés University in La Paz. And the person in charge of fighting narco-trafficking? Felipe Caceres, a coca growers' union leader. Is this, then, the dawn of the world's first narco state? Morales says it is not.He may say it's not but according to the United Nations Office of Drug Control, over 36,000 tons of coca leaf were produced in Bolivia in 2004, out of which 25,000 tons were available for cocaine production. Without narco-trafficking, many Bolivian people would starve.
Chavez said that the U.S. was trying to prevent South American unity and that Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela would aid Bolivia with loans, road construction and public health.Hugo Chavez's megalomania has reached new heights-he now presumes to spend the foreign aid budgets of Brazil and Argentina. If any doubts remained in your mind that Brazil's Lula was committed to Chavez's deluded dreams, let them rest. He is. Argentina's Nestor Kirchner is likewise "proud" of his radical leftist past. And they all seem to be orbiting Chavez. What a delight.
Investor’s Business Daily has an amazing editorial today suggesting that oil prices have probably peaked. It cites significant trading activity showing that some very big players are selling oil stocks like a herd of panicked elephants, unafraid to take losses now - because they know the losses are going to be bigger later. It’s really interesting stuff because this paper knows how to read stock markets in a systemic way and implicitly forecasts very well.A thimbleful of cognac to Frank IBC for this fascinating tidbit. I encourage you to click the Gustavo Coronel link as well and read about the mismanagement of PDVSA, the state oil company of Venezuela.
If this reading is correct, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is finally in for some very bad times. Right now he has held onto power not through popularity but through the high price of oil. Those oil earnings have been his tyrant’s premium, enabling him to oppress, wreck and ruin his once-vibrant country, as well as spread his influence abroad, with no apparent consequences. He’s flung money all over the hemisphere, and supported the moribund government of Cuba as well.
Gustavo Coronel has a powerful new essay on the already-shoddy state of finances of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, a pristine company when he was a board director with it, but now a tattered, bush-league, crummy shadow of its once-gleaming self since the Chavez takeover. He discusses the falling production, the dodgy balance sheets and the intransparency, all of which are preventing Venezuela from taking advantage of record-high oil prices in any meaningful way. Just imagine what would happen if oil prices fell? Read it here.
All of this could be adding up to very bad times ahead for Hugo Chavez. Keep an eye on him and what he’s doing, he may well know the gig is up and either grow more aggressive with his enemies, or stash more money abroad along with his cronies. Maybe both. Falling oil prices are his worst nightmare. Could cheap oil be conducive to democratic revolution? I think it could.