Monday, December 3, 2007
Story of the Day-Chávez loses bid to extend power
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (pronounced [ˈuɰo rafaˈel ˈtʃaβ̞es ˈfɾias]) (born July 28, 1954) is the current President of Venezuela. As the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez promotes his vision of democratic socialism, Latin American integration, and anti-imperialism. He is also a critic of neoliberal globalization and United States foreign policy. Hugo Chavez is also a trotskyist.
A career military officer, Chávez founded the left-wing Fifth Republic Movement after orchestrating a failed 1992 coup d'état against former President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Chávez was elected President in 1998 with a campaign centering on promises of aiding Venezuela's poor majority, and was reelected in 2000 and in 2006. Domestically, Chávez has launched Bolivarian Missions, whose goals are to combat disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty, and other social ills. Abroad, Chávez has acted against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, and has advocated cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America.
Chávez's reforms have evoked controversy in Venezuela and abroad, receiving anything from vehement criticism and enthusiastic support. Some people, especially in the government of the United States, view Chávez as a threat to democracy in Latin America. Others sympathize with his ideology or welcome his bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements. In 2005 and 2006 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people.
Profile: Hugo Chavez
ABC television interview with Hugo Chavez
Chavez: 'No oil' if U.S. meddles in vote
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez urged supporters to approve constitutional changes that he said could keep him in power for life and threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States if it tries to meddle in Sunday's vote.
Speaking to more than 200,000 supporters on Friday, Chavez warned that his opponents at home could try to sabotage the vote with backing from Washington through violent protests on the night of the vote.
"If 'yes' wins on Sunday and the Venezuelan oligarchy, the violent Venezuelans — the ones who play the (U.S.) empire's game — unleash violence with the tale that there was fraud ... minister, that very Monday you order a halt to the shipments of oil to the United States," Chavez said, addressing his oil minister, Rafael Ramirez.
"Oil will not go out to the United States," Chavez said, warning the opposition if they take to streets to deny a legitimate victory, "they're going to regret it."
Venezuela was the fourth largest oil exporter to the United States in 2006.
Chavez dismissed Venezuelans who oppose the constitutional changes as beholden to U.S. interests.
"Anyone who votes 'No' is voting for George W. Bush," he said. "Our real enemy is called the U.S. empire, and on Sunday, Dec. 2, we're going to give another knockout to Bush, so no one forgets that is the battlefield."
Chavez's opponents have called for close monitoring of results in what they expect to be a tight contest, raising tensions ahead of a vote on sweeping changes that would left Chavez seek re-election in 2012 and indefinitely.
His opponents have called for close monitoring of results in what they expect to be a tight contest, raising tensions ahead of a vote on sweeping changes to the constitution that would left Chavez seek re-election in 2012 and indefinitely.
"If God gives me life and help," Chavez said, "I will be at the head of the government until 2050!" — when he would be 95 years old.
"To the Venezuelan oligarchy and the U.S. empire, from here I'm warning them that they won't be able to stop the car of the Bolivarian Revolution, because on Sunday we will approve the constitutional reform," Chavez said.
There were no independent crowd estimates, but reporters estimated the crowd at more than 200,000.
The government cites polls showing Chavez leading ahead of the referendum, while other polls have predicted a close race.
Pollster Luis Vicente Leon, whose firm Datanalisis found the "no" option leading in a poll earlier this month, said Friday that two other later tracking polls by his firm found Chavez had closed the gap and the two sides were statistically about even.
"We don't know who's going to win," Leon said. "The result will depend on the level of abstention that ends up happening. Whoever has the greatest weight to achieve turnout among their voters at the polls is going to win."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States hopes the referendum will be "a free and fair contest in which the will and desire of the Venezuelan people is reflected."
Speaking to the crowd from a stage, Chavez said: "Venezuela is going to be a world power, no matter whom it hurts!"
The pro-Chavez rally came a day after opposition supporters filled the same avenue promising to defeat revisions that would also extend presidential terms from six to seven years, create new forms of communal property and expand Chavez's powers to reshape Venezuela as a socialist state.
"Chavez has become a father for us," said Xiomi Diaz, a 34-year-old farmer. "He's a father of the poor." She and others traveled from across the country in hundreds of buses, and chanted: "Ooh, Ah! Chavez isn't going anywhere!"
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, denies he is trying to amass power, saying the changes are necessary to give the people a greater voice in government and to move toward a socialist system.
Human Rights Watch warned the reforms would threaten fundamental rights, citing one revision allowing the president to declare indefinite states of emergency during which the government could detain citizens without charge and censor the media.
"These amendments would enable President Chavez to suspend basic rights indefinitely by maintaining a perpetual state of emergency," said Jose Miguel Vivanco of the New York-based group.
Chavez's opponents also have questioned the National Electoral Council's impartiality, especially after Chavez named its former chief, Jorge Rodriguez, as his vice president in January. But in contrast to past elections, when the opposition has boycotted votes or been split on whether to participate, this time many opposition leaders are emboldened and urging voters to turn out in large numbers.
University students have led protests and occasionally clashed with police and Chavista groups. One man was shot dead Monday while trying to get through a road blocked by protesters.
The opposition also has been heartened by some recent defections from Chavez's movement, including former Defense Minister Gen. Raul Baduel. Even Chavez's ex-wife, Marisabel Rodriguez, has urged Venezuelans to vote "no."
About 100 electoral observers from 39 countries in Latin America, Europe and the United States are on hand, plus hundreds of Venezuelan observers, the National Electoral Council said.
Yet, absent this time are the Organization of American States and the European Union, which have monitored past votes.
Among those attending are observers from the National Lawyers Guild and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Chavez's opponents have been suspicious of electronic voting machines made by Boca Raton, Florida-based Smartmatic Inc., which is primarily owned by three Venezuelans. But Luis Enrique Lander of the Venezuelan vote-monitoring group Ojo Electoral said his team is satisfied with vote preparations and safeguards.
Chavez also threatened to expel journalists for the CNN international news network if they assisted in any plot to overthrow his government.
If CNN "came here to lend its correspondents to an imperialist operation, they will be thrown from the country," Chavez said.
On Tuesday, he accused the network of promoting his assassination, after CNN en Espanol aired a picture of him and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe with the words "And who killed him?" superimposed.
CNN said the airing, which lasted a few seconds, was a mistake, and the text corresponded to another news item that had nothing to do with the presidents' images.
Chavez Loses Constitutional Vote
Venezuelan President Defeated in Bid for Indefinite Re-Election, Sweeping Reform
Humbled by his first electoral defeat ever, President Hugo Chavez said Monday he may have been too ambitious in asking voters to let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse a huge leap to a socialist state.
"I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense," he said after voters narrowly rejected the sweeping constitutional reforms by 51 percent to 49 percent.
Opposition activists were ecstatic as the results were announced shortly after midnight with 88 percent of the vote counted, the trend was declared irreversible by elections council chief Tibisay Lucena.
Some shed tears. Others began chanting: "And now he's going away!"
Without the overhaul, Chavez will be barred from running again in 2012.
Foes of the reform effort including Roman Catholic leaders, media freedom groups, human rights groups and prominent business leaders said it would have granted Chavez unchecked power and imperiled basic rights.
Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace that the outcome of Sunday's balloting had taught him that "Venezuelan democracy is maturing." His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democratic leader.
"From this moment on, let's be calm," he proposed, asking for no more street violence like the clashes that marred pre-vote protests. "There is no dictatorship here."
The White House took note of Chavez's setback.
"We congratulate the people of Venezuela on their election and their continued desire to live in freedom and democracy," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns also said it was a victory for the country's citizens who want to prevent Chavez from having unchecked power.
"We felt that this referendum would make Chavez president for life, and that's not ever a welcome development," Burns told reporters in Singapore. "In a country that wants to be a democracy, the people spoke, and the people spoke for democracy and against unlimited power."
Chavez, who was briefly ousted in a failed 2002 coup, blamed the loss on low turnout among the very supporters who re-elected him a year ago with 63 percent of the vote.
Seven in 10 eligible voters cast ballots then. This time it was just 56 percent.
The defeated reform package would have created new types of communal property, let Chavez handpick local leaders under a redrawn political map and suspended civil liberties during extended states of emergency.
Other changes would have shortened the workday from eight hours to six, created a social security fund for millions of informal laborers and promoted communal councils where residents decide how to spend government funds.
Nelly Hernandez, a 37-year-old street vendor, cried as she wandered outside the presidential palace early Monday amid broken beer bottles as government workers took apart a stage mounted earlier for a victory fete.
"It's difficult to accept this, but Chavez has not abandoned us, he'll still be there for us," she said between sobs.
A close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez has redistributed more oil wealth than past Venezuelan leaders, and also has aided Latin American allies including Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua that have followed Venezuela's turn to the left.
"He is a man who feels for the people, a man who has suffered, a man who comes from below," Carlos Orlando Vega, a 47-year-old carpenter's assistant, said outside a polling station in a Caracas slum on Sunday.
Vega is among tens of thousands of Venezuelans who, under Chavez, have new government-provided homes.
Chavez urged calm and restraint after his Sunday setback.
"I wouldn't have wanted that Pyrrhic victory," he said, suggesting a small margin wouldn't have been enough of a mandate.
Tensions surged in the weeks ahead of Sunday's vote, with university students leading protests and occasionally clashing with police and Chavista groups.
Chavez had warned opponents against inciting violence before the vote, and threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States if the Bush administration interfered.
Chavez, 53, also suffered some high-profile defections by political allies, including former defense minister Gen. Raul Baduel.
Early Monday, Baduel reminded fellow Venezuelans that Chavez still wields special decree powers thanks to a pliant National Assembly packed with his supporters.
"These results can't be recognized as a victory," Baduel told reporters,
Baduel, who as defense minister helped Chavez turn back the 2002 putsch, said Venezuela can only be properly united by convening a popularly elected assembly to rewrite its constitution.
Chavez has progressively steamrolled a fractured opposition since he was first elected in 1998, and his allies now control most elected posts.
At opposition headquarters in an affluent east Caracas district, jubilant Chavez foes sang the national anthem.
"This reform was about democracy or totalitarian socialism, and democracy won," said opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said.
"At least now we have the guarantee that Chavez will leave power," said Valeria Aguirre, a 22-year-old student who had braved tear gas during street protests.
Lucena, the electoral agency chief, called the vote "the calmest we've had in the last 10 years."
All was reported calm during Sunday's voting but 45 people were detained, most for committing ballot-related crimes like "destroying electoral materials," said Gen. Jesus Gonzalez, chief of a military command overseeing security.