Venezuela's National Assembly granted President Nicolás Maduro decree powers on Sunday for the rest of 2015 in a move he says is to defend the country from U.S. meddling but opponents decry as evidence of autocracy.
In a noisy National Assembly session, ruling Socialist Party legislators, who have a majority, applauded the "Enabling Law" as a legitimate response to sanctions on seven officials and a U.S. declaration that Venezuela is a security threat.
"They [the United States] want to stick their hands into Venezuela's wealth, just as they have done in other countries," ruling party legislator Tania Diaz said, presenting the "anti-imperialist" Enabling Law to the assembly.
Outside, red-clad Maduro supporters chanted and held placards proclaiming, "Yankees, go home."
Opposition lawmakers said Maduro was cynically exploiting the diplomatic flare-up with Washington to amass powers, justify repression and distract Venezuelans from economic problems, including acute shortages.
On March 9, President Barack Obama issued an executive order declaring Venezuela a national security threat, sanctioning the seven individuals and expressing concern about the Venezuelan government's treatment of political opponents.
The next day, Maduro sought decree powers, which the assembly approved initially on March 12.
"Corrupt ones, your trips to Disney World are over," opposition leader Henrique Capriles tweeted on Sunday, referring to the U.S. visa ban on seven Venezuelan officials whom Washington accuses of corruption and human rights abuses.
"The Venezuelan people are not stupid,” Capriles continued. “This [the U.S. measure] is against you, not against Venezuela."
The U.S. move has triggered daily denunciations from Maduro, a series of "anti-imperialist" rallies, military exercises and a proliferation of graffiti condemning "gringo" interference.
It has also overshadowed Venezuelans' disquiet at suffering the highest inflation in the Americas, long lines for food and medicines and shortages of many basic products.
Maduro, a 52-year-old former union activist and foreign minister who won election to replace Hugo Chávez in 2013, had seen his ratings tumble because of the economic crisis, but pollsters believe he may get a nationalist bounce during the spat with the U.S.
The government and the opposition coalition are preparing for a vote later in the year to elect a new National Assembly. The date has not yet been set.
Mindful of past U.S. meddling in their region, Latin American neighbors have been supportive of Maduro, with the South American UNASUR bloc condemning Washington's "interventionist threat" in a foreign ministers' statement.
Sunday's measure was the second time Maduro has been empowered by an Enabling Law during his two-year rule.
Al Jazeera with Reuters