CARACAS, Venezuela — The transportation minister appeared on live television from an auto-parts store, trumpeting prices that had been slashed in half, at least. A top regional official, broadcasting from another shop, boasted that prices of toys and other goods had been cut to the bone. From an appliance store, the commerce minister called on shoppers to buy washers and dryers at new, low-low prices.
This week, the entire Cabinet of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela has been waging a battle against soaring inflation like a socialist version of Crazy Eddie, the onetime electronics chain store famous in New York for its goofy 1980s ads that trumpeted its “insane” prices.
It is all part of a fever-pitch campaign to quell frustration with the economy by forcing retailers to slash prices, giving a much-needed shot of adrenaline to Maduro’s government just weeks before municipal elections that opponents want to cast as a referendum on his young and stumble-prone administration.
Further strengthening his hand, the National Assembly on Thursday took a significant step toward granting Maduro decree powers that will allow him to create laws on his own without legislative approval. The president has said he needs the powers to address the country’s grave economic difficulties, which he blames on an “economic war” being waged by the political opposition. He has said he will use the powers to take steps like setting price controls and a cap on profits.
Such special powers have a long history in a country accustomed to a powerful leader with a strong hand. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, was granted decree powers during several periods of his 14 years in office. Maduro had sought the decree power since last month, but his supporters in the legislature were one vote short of the 99 needed to reach the three-fifths margin required to pass the measure. But this week his United Socialist Party engineered the ouster of an opposition legislator accused of corruption, clearing the way for a replacement supportive of Maduro.