VIJAY SHAH via BBC
The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, whose country is experiencing a crisis in electricity and other materials, has passed a new decree enabling his government to seize control of underperforming or closing factories and jail their owners, BBC News reports.
As Venezuela’s economy continues to slump, President Maduro held a meeting with supporters in the capital Caracas. He told them that the country needed to sort out the crisis and to ramp up levels of manufacturing. This past Friday, Maduro had also brought in a nationwide state of emergency as Venezuela suffers food and electricity shortages. Maduro told observers that the state of emergency was needed to counteract ‘foreign aggression’, although the BBC report does not say which countries were responsible. He also said that the country was being held to ransom by business leaders opposed to Maduro’s left-wing rule.
Maduro said: “We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralysed by the bourgeoisie,”
“Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV [Venezuelan General Penitentiary],” he said.
“We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other… to defend this sacred land,” he added.
The state of emergency announced recently builds on the emergency measures Maduro instituted in January this year. The original plan was to keep the situation in place for the next three months, but in reality it may not end until 2017.
He did not specify if there would be limits to other constitutional rights but he said the decree would provide “a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people.”
A previous state of emergency was implemented in states near the Colombian border last year.
It suspended constitutional guarantees in those areas but did not suspend guarantees related to human rights, the BBC said. Venezuela’s minister for communications and information, Luis Jose Marcano, said the state of emergency would enable the government to better distribute rations and tackle the crisis more easily. He also said that it would also enable the government to deal with perceived threats from ‘armed groups’ and protect public order. Opponents fear the emergency could be used by the Maduro administration to stifle free speech in the country.
Opponents of the president have been holding rallies in Caracas demanding he step down, pushing for a ‘recall vote’ to push him out of power. The government’s opposition in the Venezuelan parliament have submitted a petition with 1.8 million signatures calling for a referendum on Maduro, but National Electoral Board has not yet verified the voters’ signatures. Opponents have chided the Board for being ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ and that it is deliberately procrastinating. The referendum cannot happen until the petition moves onto the next stage and acquires another 4 million signatures.
At the Saturday anti-Maduro rally in Caracas, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said: “We want a country without queues, where we can find medicines. We want change.”
He described Venezuela as a “time bomb that can explode at any given moment”. Fellow opponent Marisol dos Santos warned there would be a ‘social explosion’ of massive popular unrest if President Maduro refused to honour the recall vote and referendum results, should they happen.
In the light of the emergency situation, the Venezuelan leader also announced the start of military exercises from next weekend to guard the country against unspecified foreign threats.
Though Venezuela is one of South America’s largest oil producers, it has been weakened by falls in global oil prices. Financial analysis showed that its economy contracted by 5.7% in 2015, with the inflation rate at a shocking 180% so far.
Citizens are struggling to obtain basic necessities such as food, medicines, and utilities. Nicolas Maduro attributed this to the United States and local business leaders attempting to undermine his government via a covert economic war. A photo released by the BBC shows people queueing outside a store to buy rationed goods. The crisis has forced the government to bring in a four-day working week to save on electricity. Water is also being rationed, adding to the woes of the ordinary Venezuelan.
The threat to seize closed-down factories came after Venezuela’s largest edibles manufacturer, Grupa Polar, stopped producing beer, accusing the government for preventing it importing barley, a key ingredient of the drink. The group is owned by billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza, who is a fierce critic of President Maduro, according to the BBC.