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Chavez Says He May Cut His Time With Decree Powers

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, addressing a bolstered opposition in a congress whose powers he assumed last month, said he might shorten the so-called enabling law that allows him to rule by decree.

In a nationally broadcast state of the union speech, Chavez said he needs only four to five months to pass laws without congressional approval, instead of the 18 months he was granted. Chavez has said he needed the authority to help 130,000 people displaced by heavy rains last month.

“I’m capable of returning the law to congress,” Chavez said today in Caracas. “By May 1, we may have passed all the laws. I’ll return the law so that no one feels limited.”

Pro-government lawmakers handed Chavez the power of decree days before the new National Assembly was elected with a greater opposition. So far, he has decreed that a special fund of 10 billion bolivars ($2.33 billion) be established for rebuilding efforts after rains damaged highways and bridges and destroyed homes.

The decree powers, which Chavez said today were “justified,” have been criticized by Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, and by the U.S. State Department.

Chavez, a self-professed socialist, said today he’s not a dictator and welcomed opposition politicians to the congress, while calling for a “conciliatory” dialogue with them. The opposition won about 40 percent of the seats in the National Assembly in September elections and took their seats Jan. 5.

Balance of Power

Chavez, who had a near-absolute majority in the previous National Assembly after the opposition boycotted 2005 elections, has been in power since 1999. He plans to seek another six-year term in December 2012.

The Venezuelan president plans to create by decree a government agency to monitor prices and profit margins for companies in order to curb speculation and inflation, he said today.

Venezuelan consumer prices rose 27.2 percent in 2010, the highest annual inflation rate of 78 economies tracked by Bloomberg. The government regulates prices of basic food goods and subsidizes prices in state-run markets.

The economy, which has contracted for two consecutive years, leaving Venezuela as the last Latin American country to remain in a recession after the global economic crisis, may grow more than 2 percent this year, he said.

Chavez said today that Venezuela’s political debate should be more “ethical” and that neither the government nor opposition should let the opportunity for conciliation pass.

Speaking to opposition politicians with whom he shook hands before the speech, Chavez said, “It’s good to see you here despite your serious faces and I ask you to be respected because I don’t want to let this new chance pass.”

“It’s in this National Assembly’s hands to plant the seed of debate, dialogue and the search for national harmony,” he said.

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