Maduro wins Venezuela decree powers in US confrontation

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony in Caracas on March 5, 2015 (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan lawmakers voted Sunday to give socialist President Nicolas Maduro special powers to go it alone in defense and public safety, amid an escalating confrontation with the United States.

The decree powers were approved by a show of hands in the National Assembly -- which is packed with Maduro allies -- after two hours of one-sided debate. They will be in effect until the end of the year and will raise fresh fears about abuse of power.

"This Assembly declares this law approved," declared speaker Diosdado Cabello.

"We are going to head over there in front of Miraflores (presidential) Palace to deliver the law to the people and comrade Nicolas Maduro," Cabello added.

Carlos Luna, an international affairs analyst and university professor, called the law "highly dangerous."

It allows Maduro to issue decrees on civil rights which are "constitutionally guaranteed rights of the individual, which are meant to be a containing wall against abuse of power," Luna said.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter that Venezuela's "crisis has nothing to do with (the United States) or economic wars" that Maduro repeatedly says that Venezuela faces.

An anti-US march was called by the Cuban-allied socialist government at the palace.

Venezuela is in the midst of 10 days of nationwide military exercises, as the country faces a deepening economic crisis and rampant shortages of the most basic goods.

Maduro recently accused Washington of backing an opposition plot to overthrow him in a coup that he says would have involved bombing the presidential palace. The US government has dismissed the charges as baseless.

Relations hit a new low last week when US President Barack Obama slapped new sanctions on the Venezuelan government, calling the country "an extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States.

An angry Caracas responded by recalling its envoy to Washington and ramping up its military preparedness.

Maduro's late mentor, the longtime president Hugo Chavez, was also a harsh critic of the United States, slamming Washington for failing to cooperate with the leftist government after it came to power in democratically held elections.

But critics and the opposition say that the government under Chavez and now Maduro has acted to curb dissent in the legislature and on the streets.

In April 2002, when Chavez was briefly ousted for two days, the United States did not come to his aid but instead threw its support behind an adversary, in a move that cost the US much credibility in Venezuela and in some of Latin America.