Party on Verge of Breaking Away from Pro-Chavez Coalition

The rift between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the political party Podemos, which is part of the pro-Chavez coalition, deepened on Tuesday after Podemos deputies abstained in a vote on Chavez’s proposed project of constitutional reform.

Caracas, September 13, 2007 (— The rift between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the political party Podemos, which is part of the pro-Chavez coalition, deepened on Tuesday after Podemos deputies in the National Assembly abstained during the second vote on Chavez’s proposed project of constitutional reform, prompting Chavez to argue that Podemos had passed over to the opposition.

Although the reforms, which were voted on by sections or "chapters” (and are still required to be approved in a third extraordinary session of the National Assembly before going to a national referendum, scheduled for December 2), were supported by the vast majority of deputies chanting, “the people united will never be defeated,” National Assembly President Cilia Flores viewed the abstention of Podemos as “lamentable.”

In contrast, Chavez said the actions of Podemos were positive because “the masks have fallen and provoked the ejection of those that don’t truly form part of the revolutionary ranks.”

“What was ambigous, is no longer ambiguous, I believe that a group of deputies, as occured a few years ago, have passed over to the opposition,” he added.

“We should be happy,” he explained, “because this is going to strengthen the revolutionary process and increase the conciousness and political maturity of our people… of those truly disposed to make a profound revolution, to have a democratic socialist homeland… We don’t need people that are two faced.”

While he praised, “the authentic revolutionary deputies who defended the revolution,” Chavez argued that Podemos deputies are “hypocrites,” who say they are revolutionary but in reality are not. Chavez said many times in the past he had had his doubts about Podemos, but at the same time hoped that they would “truly assume the revolution.”

Open differences first emerged earlier this year when Podemos, which describes itself as a “social democratic” party, declined to dissolve itself to become part of Chavez’s new United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Despite their abstention in the National Assembly on Tuesday, Podemos leaders have also spoken openly against the proposed reforms, with Ismael Garcia, the party’s parliamentary deputy and general secretary, saying the reforms represent a “confiscation of popular power.”

Podemos leaders, who hold a number of state governorships, have specifically criticized Chavez’s proposed changes to article 16 for a “new geometry of power,” which would allow the president to appoint a number of temporary regional vice presidents and would also weaken governorships by devolving power to communal councils, social missions, and other community organizations.

Speaking yesterday to an audience of 200 people in the Ateneo Concert Hall in Caracas, the president of Podemos and governor of Sucre Ramon Martinez said the “new geometry of power” would lead towards the “atomization,” “ingovernablity,” and “disintegration of the country.”

Martinez added that Podemos would not support the proposed reforms and said their campaign slogan would be “rescue sovereignty.”

Pro-Chavez governor of Miranda, Diosdado Cabello, told the Bolivarian News Agency that “many people unite with Chavismo for convenience and when they feel that their spaces of power become vulnerable they shift back to their original position.”

Cabello also revealed that Ismael Garcia has been having meetings with opposition parties and groups for “at least three months.” It was also reported on that Garcia spoke at an opposition “student” rally in the wealthy suburb of Chacaito last Wednesday, where other speakers on the platform openly called for the assassination of Chavez.