CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s legislature on Tuesday gave President Nicolás Maduro decree powers that he says are necessary for an “economic offensive” against the spiraling inflation and food shortages buffeting the country’s economy ahead of important municipal elections.
The 50-year-old former union activist and bus driver, who succeeded Hugo Chávez after the mercurial leader died of cancer in March, secured just enough votes for the measure to pass after a dissident lawmaker was recently stripped of her seat. Opponents warned that Maduro, who blames the economic crisis on private businessmen conniving with agents of the U.S. government, is leading Venezuela to ruin while trampling on individual liberties.
“We are going to consolidate this economic offensive,” Maduro said shortly after the vote, explaining to viewers on national television that he accepted the new powers in the name of his mentor. “Mission completed, Comandante Hugo Chávez!”
The government has recently taken extreme measures to slow the country’s 54 percent annual inflation rate, one of the world’s highest, and end widespread shortages of toilet paper, milk, cooking oil and other basic goods. The local currency is also in a free fall, skyrocketing to more than 60 bolivars to the U.S. dollar on the black market, 10 times the official rate.