By Ricardo Vaz
The legislation had been announced by president Nicolas Maduro last week and was passed by the ANC’s plenary with minor changes on Thursday. ANC deputies unanimously voted in favor, even though only a fraction of the body’s 545 members were present in the session.
The all-powerful Constituent Assembly was elected in July 2017 amidst a climate of insurrectionary opposition violence. ANC president Diosdado Cabello recently said that the body will dissolve itself in December without presenting a new constitutional draft.
The Maduro government has argued that the law is a necessary legal tool to confront US sanctions against the Venezuelan economy.
“The anti-blockade law is one of the most powerful tools in our strategy to defeat the financial, economic and commercial persecution and create new perspectives for development,” the president said in a televised address on Wednesday.
He recalled that Venezuela is being attacked by Washington “every day,” and added that the country had “great hopes” pinned on this law.
The Trump administration has significantly escalated sanctions in recent months, especially against the oil sector. The most recent measures from the US Treasury Department have targeted shipping enterprises, while foreign companies have been threatened with secondary sanctions should they continue to deal with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
The bill, which ranks as a constitutional law, claims that its purpose is to hand the Venezuelan executive “the legal tools to counter, mitigate and reduce the harmful effects of US sanctions on the Venezuelan population.” While the official text has not been published, it was read aloud during the ANC session and later leaked.
However, leftist organizations and popular movements have criticized the new legislation. There has been fierce debate on social media, with the hashtag #NoApruebo (“I don’t approve”) becoming the top trend on Wednesday evening.
Critics have pointed out that several articles in the bill jeopardized sovereignty by opening the door for larger private capital involvement or privatization in strategic economic sectors, while granting the government the possibility to suspend legislation at its discretion if required to circumvent sanctions.
The bill’s article 33 states that the government “will implement programs to ensure the investment from technicians, academics, businesses, workers’ councils and popular organizations in projects or alliances in strategic sectors.” Additionally, article 19 allows the government to “suspend, in specific cases, legal norms that are inapplicable or counterproductive” as a result of sanctions.
Other concerns include “confidentiality” clauses, which several analysts claim could lead to a lack of transparency and accountability, and possible violations of the Venezuelan constitution.
ANC deputy from Sucre State Telemaco Figueroa argued that the law fostered “corruption and impunity”. He stressed that the Venezuelan people are suffering because of the US blockade, but that the government’s economic policies had not been appropriate.
“The anti-blockade law grants officials total freedom to act as they please in this sea of corruption and impunity, with no control or accountability,” he said in an interview with Telemundo.
Figueroa also criticized the way in which the bill was approved, denouncing that no provisions were made to ensure that all deputies were present and that the proposal was not scrutinized by the Venezuelan people. Constitutionalist jurist and fellow ANC deputy Maria Alejandra Diaz also criticized the lack of debate surrounding the law, claiming that most members had not had access to the text prior to the vote.