CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez deployed the navy to Venezuela's seaports on Sunday, and he said state governors who challenge new legislation bringing transportation hubs under federal control could end up in prison.
Speaking during his weekly television and radio program, Chavez ordered naval vessels to seize control of Port Cabello in Carabobo state and Maracaibo Port in Zulia state — two of Venezuela's largest seaports.
Then he singled out the opposition-sided governors of those states — Carabobo Gov. Henrique Salas and Zulia Gov. Pablo Perez — and told military officers they might decide to flout the newly approved law.
"If he gets smart ... that deserves prison," Chavez said of Salas. "The same goes for the governor of Zulia."
Lawmakers loyal to Chavez voted last week to bring all airports, highways and seaports under federal control, a move government adversaries said was designed to expand the president's power.
"This is a national security issue," Chavez said Sunday, defending the law.
The socialist leader accused "corrupt" governors of allowing drug smuggling through airports and seaports previously under their administration to thrive, and he promised a government crackdown.
"We've given drug trafficking tough blows, but we must recognize that they still have some bases in the ports and airports," Chavez said.
Opposition governors warned that the law approved last week by the Chavista-dominated National Assembly is designed to strangle the president's foes financially and to undermine support from constituents who elected them in November.
Under the law, states and municipalities can no longer collect tariffs at transportation hubs or establish tolls along highways, meaning governors and mayors will have less money for local public projects.
Chavez's allies won 17 of 22 gubernatorial races in November elections. But opposition leaders gained ground, winning five gubernatorial posts and the Caracas mayor's office.
Following the vote, Chavez signed a series of decrees giving his government control over hospitals, sports stadiums and other public institutions in states won by the opposition.