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Latin American Round-Up: Hugo Chávez Gets Decree Powers, Raúl Castro Gets Depressed

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Cheer up buddy. I've got decree powers!
Hugo Chávez won't be making any Obama-like compromises in 2011. The Venezuelan National Assembly is expected to pass a ley habilitante today that would allow the bombastic president -- best known for his Twitter histrionics -- to pass laws by decree for 12 months.

Although it would be the fourth time Chávez has wielded such power, it's a big kick in the coconuts to political opposition groups that were poised to take office for the first time in five years on January 5.

Meanwhile, a U.S. government cable released by WikiLeaks has revealed that Chávez ally and current president of Cuba, Raúl Castro, is prone to depression.

Here's an excerpt from the June 2007 message from Havana to D.C. in which American officials speculate on the potential repercussions of the death of Castro's wife, Vilma Espin:
Yes, both Fidel and Raul Castro are mass murderers and cruel leaders, but Raul always has had a parallel reputation as a family man. He and Vilma Espin were, much more than Fidel and any of his partners, the ones concerned about the Castro family as a family. Some reporting from when Fidel Castro became incapacitated last July indicated that Raul Castro suffered from depression, caused by the parallel terminal illnesses of his brother and wife, and much more the latter than the former. For long stretches of time he stayed completely out of public view. Raul Castro and Vilma Espin were reported to have been estranged over the years, but not entirely. Raul Castro could lose his bearings over Espin's death, and return to that same kind of private detachment, leaving Cuba even more leaderless than has been the case during the past few months as Fidel Castro has become more and more active.
We're guessing the whole "mass murderers and cruel leaders" part won't do the Obama administration any good in improving relations between the two countries.

Neither will Chávez's new decree powers. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley has already said of the Venezuelan president: "He seems to be finding new and creative ways to justify autocratic powers."

For his part, Chávez said yesterday that the ley habilitante is needed to ensure a timely response to the floods that have killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands around Venezuela. But in the past, Chávez has used decree powers to pass controversial laws such as expanding state control of the economy and expropriating banks.

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