Caracas, August 20, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Accompanied by ex-soccer star and supporter Diego Maradona, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he was prepared for an "intense debate" about the proposed changes to the Venezuelan constitution and defended some of the changes against the criticisms of the opposition. Chavez also announced the purchase of additional arms from Russia as well as a future trip to Colombia to help negotiate between the government and guerrilla groups during his Sunday TV program Aló Presidente (Hello President).
"Let's get prepared for a week where there will be an intense debate," said Chavez on his show yesterday. "We will be confronted with threats from the empire and their pawns here [in Venezuela] trying to take advantage of the moment," he warned.
Chavez said that military detachments in the country have already received messages from opposition groups trying to incite them to rebellion against the government. He assured that the CIA was behind these conspiracies.
But Chavez discounted any possible rebellion, assuring that the armed forces would be "at the service of the Venezuelan people and in defense of their sacred interests, and in no case at the service of the oligarchy or foreign imperial power."
Chavez defended his proposed changes to the Venezuelan Armed Forces, arguing that the military should not only be involved in national defense but it should also have permanent participation in communities and at the service of what he calls "popular war of resistance," in which the military and the general population would be mobilized together for national defense.
Chavez defended the reform proposal against criticisms of other elements, reminding the audience that the topic of constitutional reform is nothing new since he had announced it before last year's presidential elections. Chavez also reiterated that he was only using his constitutional right to propose changes to the national constitution.
In response to criticisms from the opposition about the elimination of limits on running for reelection as president, where some have claimed that there would be no alternation of power, Chavez insisted that they misunderstand his proposal and prefer to distort it. Chavez gave examples of other countries where there are no limits on reelection, such as England, France, or Australia.
"The same thing here, each six or seven years, if the people approve the proposal, the 'small fries' from the opposition will have alternatives, and not only them. We will all have alternatives," he said.
Chavez also responded to criticisms about the use of the term 'socialist' in the constitution, assuring that this will not affect political pluralism in the country.
"That is nothing new. I have been talking about that since three years ago and in the electoral campaign I repeated it an infinite number of times. Therefore, it is absolutely logical and ethical to say that everyone who voted for me, voted for socialism, because I made the proposal of socialism," he explained.
Visit to Colombia
The Venezuelan president announced an official visit to Colombia by request of the families of hostages held by guerrilla forces of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The families have requested the aid of the Venezuelan president in negotiating a resolution to the armed conflict in the country and an exchange of prisoners.
"We have always said that we are at the service of Colombia, above all in working for peace in that country," he said. Chavez said that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had shown some "interesting signs" lately in their efforts to dialog with the FARC guerrillas.
"It looks interesting," he said. "I hope we can help convince the FARC and the Colombian government to move forward in the liberation of hostages in the hands of the guerrilla organization and the rebels that are being held in the state's jails."
Chavez has said that Venezuela could serve as a neutral place in which guerrilla hostages, or state prisoners could be released and received by their families.
The president also announced the purchase of 5,000 Russian sniper rifles to defend the nation against any attack from the United States. The arms would be destined for "guerrilla warfare," as a way to defend against an outside invader, according to Chavez.
"But don't be scared, this is not to attack anyone. It is to defend ourselves," he said, insisting that strengthening the nation's defense capabilities would be "the only way that the empire won't threaten our democracy."