Hugo Chavez to Unveil Proposal Tonight

President Hugo Chavez will present his blueprint for constitutional reform Wednesday, proposing sweeping changes expected to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely

Hugo Chavez to Unveil Proposal Tonight
Chavez, who is seeking to transform Venezuelan society along socialist lines, unexpectedly announced late Tuesday that he would unveil his project before crowds of supporters at the National Assembly. He predicted it would bring renewed political upheaval to Venezuela.

Chavez's political allies firmly control the National Assembly responsible for reviewing his proposal as well as the Supreme Court. His critics accuse him of becoming obsessed with power and seeking to become a lifelong leader just like his close friend Fidel Castro.

Chavez rejects allegations that he poses a threat to democracy.

The Venezuelan leader predicted that most people would support his proposal to reform the constitution, but he also forecast the beginning of a tenacious political battle with the nation's opposition.

"I have faith that we are going to convince the immense majority of Venezuelans of the necessity and the immediate benefits that this is going to bring the country," Chavez said during a televised interview.

"Tomorrow our great battle begins," Chavez said. "They are going to launch a campaign tomorrow to try to distort the text and the spirit of the proposal."

Dozens of government supporters wearing red—the color of Chavez's ruling party—started gathering early Tuesday outside the National Assembly, where sound trucks and giant video screens were set up in preparation for the president's public address. A recently- nationalized telecommunications company sent text messages to mobile phone clients inviting them to the event.

Chavez has revealed few details of his reform proposal but has stressed the need to do away with presidential term limits that currently prevent him from seeking re-election in 2012.

All but a handful of the National Assembly's 167 members are Chavez loyalists, and critics expect lawmakers to approve most—if not all—of the president's reform proposals.

Many lawmakers say they support the idea of eliminating presidential term limits, but they argue the same rules should not apply to state governors and mayors.

National Assembly President Celia Flores said lawmakers could finish the reform debate within two months. Under the constitution, the final draft of the proposal must be approved by voters in a referendum.

Roman Catholic leaders have been among the most outspoken critics of Chavez's plans to rewrite the constitution, and the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference has complained that his reform proposals were drafted without public involvement. Others argue Chavez has dangerously divided Venezuela along class lines.

Since his re-election to a fresh six-year term in December, Chavez stoked fears that he his headed toward Cuba-style communism by creating a single ruling party and nationalizing Venezuela's several of key industries including the oil, telecommunications and electricity sectors.

"The majority of Venezuelans don't want socialism. He wants our country to be like Cuba, and we aren't going to accept that," said Linda Dos Santos, a 30-year-old shoe store owner who fears the government could move to seize second homes and distribute them among the poor under the pending reform.

Angel Angulo, a former horse racing jockey who currently works for the foreign ministry, denied the wealthy would be targeted by the government as Chavez moves to bridge the gap between the rich and poor.

"Socialism will bring benefits to those who need it the most, but all of us can live together," said Angulo, adding that Venezuela's opposition leaders oppose indefinite re-election "because they don't have any chance of being elected in forthcoming elections."

Chavez, a former paratroop commander who was first elected in 1998, denies copying Cuba and insists that basic freedoms will be respected under his government. He says that democracy has flourished, rather than diminished, under his administration.

Chavez pushed through a new constitution in 1999, shortly after he was first elected. He says the charter must be redrafted in order to steer Venezuela away from capitalism.

AP
Last Mod: 16 Ağustos 2007, 11:20
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