12/2: Voting In Venezuela

Sunday, December 2, 2007, is Voting Day in Venezuela.  This diary is about the referendum and the last minute developments leading up to the vote.

What’s the vote about?  BBC reports:


On 2 December, Venezuelans will decide whether or not to approve a package of constitutional reforms, which include ending the limits on presidential terms.

The changes, which would affect about a quarter of the constitution’s articles, were approved by the National Assembly, which is controlled by President Hugo Chavez’s supporters.

The referendum is the last step needed for the changes to come into force. Around 60% of voters are expected to take part

More across the wide, turquoise Caribe.

According to the BBC, the main changes Chavez proposes, and whether they are a reform or something else is open to discussion, are:

# Allowing the indefinite re-election of the president – not applicable to any other political post [this means an end to term limits]

# Increasing the presidential term from six to seven years

# Introducing changes to the country’s administrative structure [these would allow central government people (read: Chavez appointees) to overrule local decisions

# Ending the autonomy of the central bank

# Placing the president in charge of administering the country’s international reserves

# Reducing the maximum working week from 44 to 36 hours

For a complete, section by section list of the referendum items, go here

There is an intense opposition to the changes.  It is widerspread and more intense than in previous Venezuelan elections.  It is unclear whether the opposition has the majority of those who will cast ballots. Opposition to the changes began with students:

The marches against the referendum have been led mainly by groups of opposition students, not the traditional opposition parties.

Also, some Chavez supporters are not convinced about the changes he wants to introduce, especially the indefinite re-election of the president.

Some mayors and governors are also unhappy with the administrative regions he wants to create [this is a reference to changes in the country’s administrative structure].

Some analysts believe Mr Chavez is alienating his supporters.

General Raul Baduel, a former close supporter who served as defence minister, has likened the constitutional reform to a military coup.

President Chavez, sensing problems within his ranks, has repeatedly asked his allies to decide whether they are for or against him.

Meanwhile:

*4 Venezuelan opposition parties have announced that they are boycotting the vote:

A fourth Venezuelan opposition party has withdrawn from this Sunday’s congressional election amid a dispute over electronic voting machines.

Primero Justicia’s decision means more than half the opposition groupings have now pulled out.

Opposition parties are worried the election board could rig the vote.

Electoral officials deny such accusations and say voting for the expanded 167-seat Congress will go ahead as planned.

*Chavez has said that if the US interferes in the election he will cut off oil to the US:

President Hugo Chavez urged supporters Friday to approve constitutional changes he said could keep him in power for life and threatened to halt oil exports to the U.S. if it tries to meddle in Sunday’s vote.

Speaking to more than 200,000 supporters, 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 … 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.”

*The Chavistas are accusing business of of attempting to sway the election by hording toilet paper:

Venezuelan businesses spent years conspiring against President Hugo Chavez, but the government now says they have found a new way to play dirty — hiding toilet paper to sway Sunday’s vote on expanding Chavez’s powers.

Venezuelans have been buying large amounts of toilet paper on rumours it could be the next hard-to-find thing amid shortages of products like milk and meat that businesses attribute to price controls but the government blames on high demand and hoarding.

“We know there are sectors that are hiding toilet paper,” Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas told state television on Friday. “A group of business leaders are playing mean, playing dirty … of course trying to create the sensation of product shortage during the elections.”

Some shoppers in supermarkets and pharmacies visited by Reuters on Friday had filled shopping carts with toilet paper, and shelves carrying the product were only half stocked.

*And there is the usual talk in Florida, where most Venezuelan immigrants live, of mass emigration from Venezuela if Chavez wins:

f the reforms are approved, Mayela Rosales, president of the Naples-based Media Vista TV production company and host of the Spanish-language daily TV show “D’Latinos,” believes an increase of emigration from Venezuela to the U.S. is to be expected.

“I know of people in Venezuela who are looking for ways to come,” she said.

According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 177,866 Venezuelans lived in the United States as of 2006, mostly concentrated in South Florida, where 92,655 live. Lee County has 1,197 Venezuelans, acco

Will Chavez prevail?  Depends on whom you ask.  Will there be a disruption of the process? Depends on whom you ask.  This Chicago Tribune article imo captures the situation nicely:

After nine years amassing power and stirring socialist movements across the hemisphere, President Hugo Chavez is finding that even his hero, South American liberator Simon Bolivar, seems to want to rein him in.

Bolivar’s own words are being employed by Chavez opponents to attack a referendum Sunday through which the Venezuelan leader hopes to dramatically expand presidential authority in his oil-rich nation. When a leader gets too much power, “that is where usurpation and tyranny originate,” Bolivar warns in banners all over town.

For the first time, the charismatic and provocative Chavez, a former army colonel, is staring at an election defeat as even longtime loyalists on the left fear that he has gone too far in proposing constitutional changes that would let presidents be re-elected for life and rule by decree in emergency situations.

17 comments

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    • davidseth on December 1, 2007 at 6:15 pm
      Author
  1. I’m going through these links.  Appreciate it.

    • KrisC on December 1, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    you say…

    There is an intense opposition to the changes.  It is widerspread and more intense than in previous Venezuelan elections.

    But the BBC says this…

    Is President Chavez expected to win?



    It is not clear. Unlike previous referendums and elections, when Mr Chavez always looked guaranteed to win, some polls have suggested he might actually lose.

    This in itself is surprising, although it is difficult to say how reliable or objective these surveys are.

    How do you get from “it is not clear…” to “intense opposition”?

    If I may say so, from the things I have read today about all of this, I think the CIA is in control of all of this including the polling companies, and the media-here and in Venezuela.  From the CIA memo regarding “Operation Pliers” a full sixty percent of the population actually does support Chavez.

    The Electoral Scenario, as it’s phrased, confirms that the voting tendencies will not change substantially before Sunday, December 2nd, and that the SI (YES) vote in favor of the constitutional reform has an advantage of about 10-13 points over the NO vote. The CIA estimates abstention around 60% and states in the memo that this voting tendency is irreversible before the elections.

    I think that the Venezuelans should get exactly what they vote for…and we should really stay out of it.

    • davidseth on December 1, 2007 at 11:44 pm
      Author

    There is widespread, intense opposition to the changes.  The BBC article doesn’t dispute that.  The question is whether this opposition, which is admittedly greater than last time, is enough to defeat the proposal.

  2. I have not been following this story closely — your essay brings home the immediacy (and the stakes) of what is going to happen in Venezuela.

    The US has always worked to influence elections in South America (among everywhere else in the world!).  I don’t think this time will be an exception — though it may well show how we have been affected as a player in this geopolitical game by the past 7 years of US power being held by a group of criminals.

  3. in the reform package is quite unrepresentative of whole deal. While you include those measures that would likely serve to centralise power (and I agree, some of them are a cause for concern), you do not mention those measures – such as the increased devolution of power to community councils, the guarantee of free university education, the extension of social security to the informal sector (which comprises some 40% of the workforce), the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender, and so on – that do the opposite.

    This is important, because regardless of what Chavez does or doesn’t do, the fact is that the Bolivarian revolution has been at its core a democratic one. Clearly, one would like to see those aspects of the revolution that encourage this grassroots, bottom-up version of direct democracy continue to flourish (the workers’ councils, etc.), and things like the increase of term limits to seven years and the proposal to make it harder for citizens to initiate a recall referenda are worrying, but we shouldn’t let that obscure the fact that the revolution is a lot bigger than one man. The Venezuelan people have kept the revolution honest so far, in spite of the vicious attempts by the U.S. to subvert it, and I’m sure they will continue to do so.

  4. here:


    The Bolivarian struggle for Venezuela is not between the privileged white stratum (and Venezuela’s is a hugely racist dominant class) and the masses, except superficially. The opposition to Chavismo inside Venezuela has always been comprador opposition… a subset of US imperial power. The enemy of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people is the United States of America’s government and the class it represents.

    Chavez is leading a struggle – one that has not shown even a sign of dictatorship – against imperial power in Venezuela. This is a national struggle… and it is driven by a sense of urgency.

    Right now, the special circumstance of Venezuela, with its oil bringing in development capital at an astronomical rate, and having a hammer lock on enough of the US oil import fraction to give it some cover, is one where either they make the most of this advantage to consolidate the changes they can, or they see the window close, and watch every advance get frittered away through US-directed “managed democracy.”

    And as for Goff’s privileged perspective upon the US orientation to Venezuela:

    And regardless of what any American thinks of the referendum, we have a moral obligation to oppose any US coup-plotting in Venezuela. I have been directly involved in one too many Southcom intelligence summary briefings in my past life to believe the US is not at war against any independence in Latin America… or that the coup plots being reported now are not very real.

    [Panama 1981, Guatemala 1983, El Salvador 1985, Peru 1991, Panama 1991, Honduras 1991, Venezuela 1992, Colombia 1992, Haiti 1994… why would a US soldier spend so much time in these places?]

    Eh?

    • kj on December 2, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    are much appreciated. Off to read.

  5. by Greg Wilpert, here.

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