Venezuelan Opposition Launches Campaign against Constitutional Amendment

Venezuelan opposition leaders called for a campaign network against the proposed amendment to the constitution to eliminate the country’s two-term presidential limit.
Opposition leader and recently elected mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales (Archive)

Mérida, December 17, 2008 (— Venezuelan opposition leaders called for a campaign network against the proposed amendment to the constitution to eliminate the country’s two-term presidential limit.

Speaking at the national office of the Democratic Action party (AD) during a toast to the end of the year, the recently elected opposition mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, called for all those who don’t share the political project of the current national government, to participate in the campaign “Angostura.”

The campaign is named Angostura after a speech Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar gave in 1819, where he rejected life-long rule by one person.

In this speech, Bolivar says that the same individual continuing to have authority has often led to the end of democratic governments. “Repeated elections are essential in popular systems because nothing is as dangerous as letting the same citizen stay in power for a long time.”

Bolivar argues that citizens may become accustomed to the leader, and that he who leads for a long time will end up leading permanently. According to supporters of allowing more than one presidential reelection, though, Bolivar was not referring to the danger of repeated popular elections because such did not exist during his time. Rather, he was referring to repeated presidential elections by the congress.

Rosales called for the campaign of “No” to the elimination of a two-term presidential limit, to begin in January, saying that networks and nuclei should be installed across the country.

“We’re going to confront and we’re going to beat [Chavez], nobody should be mistaken about this and think that all is lost,” he said.

“It’s necessary to restore the thought of the liberator because [the Chavistas] have used it to say the opposite of what he preached. The alternation of power has been present in the constitution since 1811…in any case, with or without an amendment, Venezuela will elect a new president in 2012.”

The general secretary of AD, Henry Ramos, assured that they will go to every corner of the country to alert Venezuelans about “the dangers” of having Chavez “permanently in power.” He argued that there would be more political prisoners, implying that there already are many. However, no internationally renowned human rights organization shares this view.

“We are sure that we will beat the amendment, but at the same time we know that president Chavez won’t give up, later on he’ll invent whatever he can to try to violate the constitution,” said Ramos, also regretting the fact that the country has to spend the end of year festivities in political campaigning.

“The president doesn’t want Venezuelans to spend Christmas in peace,” said Ramos.

The first discussion of the amendment takes place in the National Assembly Thursday, November 18, and the second discussion is scheduled for January 5, with the National Electoral Council obliged to call elections within 30 days of receiving notification.

Ramos added, “We don’t want despots here, [Chavez’s] period [as president] expires in 2012 and he should go home. The disaster that he has generated in Venezuela in these last 15 years [sic] can’t continue…[with Chavez] doing everything he can to stay in power. We’re going to defeat all this when we defeat this unconstitutional amendment, but we want to say right now that Chavez is not going to be able to relax.”

According to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, the large presence of leaders from other parties at the end of year gathering was testimony to the second place obtained by AD as the party most voted for in the recent regional elections on November 23. Antonio Ledezma, the new mayor of Greater Caracas attended, as well as and the new governor of Tachira, Cesar Perez.

The will to defend the process of decentralization was also highlighted at the gathering, while Ledezma criticized the large amount of spending that the voting will involve, to vote on a theme that “was already rejected by the voters in 2007,” referring to the December 2007 constitutional reform proposal that was to change 69 articles of the constitution.

Student opposition

In an event called, “The students say ‘no’ in the first discussion,” referring to the first discussion to take place in the National Assembly, some students of the Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB) rejected the proposal to end the two-term presidential limit.

David Smolansky, a university counselor, said that this week as school vacation begins, students will remain active, with activities throughout December. He said that they would begin the “first informative phase” by handing out leaflets that explain why the population should be opposed to the amendment.

“We’re going to explain to the people that [the proposed amendment] is an outrage to democracy because it is violating the alternation of power which is one of the fundamental principles of a democratic system, and we’ll also explain that this is a proposal from someone who has already had 10 years in power.”

“Secondly, we’ll say that its totally unconstitutional, because clearly the Magna Carta establishes that you can only re-elect once, and for a period of 6 years, and thirdly we’ll say that it’s a slap in the face to the people who were already consulted on December 2 [last year] and it was rejected.”

Smolansky recounted how some students from UCAB had taken over a part of the highway to hand out information to cars there, and they also held an event in the suburb of Chacaito with the slogan, “You too can be president” and handed out leaflets in three of the biggest shopping malls.