Chávez relishes victory

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February 19, 2009

Venezuelans vote to scrap term limits in one of the president’s most resounding political victories.

More than 54 percent of Venezuelans voted in favor of changing the country´s constitution to scrap term limits on Feb. 15, handing President Hugo Chávez a major political triumph.

A similar measure was marginally rejected in December 2007 in another referendum.

Chávez, who marked a decade in office on Feb. 2, has already said that he will run in the 2012 presidential elections in order to push forward his socialist reforms, including sweeping health care, education and welfare programs.

More than 45 percent of votes were against the constitutional amendment.

“We´ve opened the doors to the future from 2009 to 2019 to continue the path,” Chávez said from the balcony of the Miraflores presidential palace after the initial results were announced. “The path is the path of the dignity of man, the dignity of the people and this path has no other name: it´s called socialism.”

Chávez´s push to scrap term limits sparked deep worry in his opponents who have often criticized the polarizing leader for simply being power hungry.

“This campaign was David vs. Goliath, and Goliath won,” said Leopoldo López, one of Venezuela´s most prominent opposition politicians, who served from 2000 to 2008 as mayor of the Chacao municipality in Caracas. “We will assure Venezuela and the world that we will continue with the struggle until we win a victory that suits all Venezuelans and we will not continue with a divide.”

Chávez supporters currently control all branches of government.

Other concerns surfaced about Chávez´s ability to carry out his reforms with lower oil revenue as international commodities prices plummet alongside the global economy.

“Even though Chávez has been mainly successful in aiding the poor of Venezuela while decreasing the overall poverty rate to less than one third of the population, he has been aggressively criticized for his inability to significantly reduce the country´s reliance on oil revenue and faulted for the nationalization of numerous private businesses, which seemed to be not worth the effort,” said Washington-based think tank, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, in a recent report.