Venezuelan Government, Opposition, and U.S. React to Constitutional Amendment’s Approval

After 54.9% of Venezuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate term limits on elected offices on Sunday, opposition and government representatives continued to exchange accusations over who had more advantages in the campaign.
PSUV leader Vanessa Davies denounced the collaboration between the private media and opposition parties against the amendment. (VTV)

Mérida, February 18th 2009 (– After 54.9% of Venezuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate term limits on elected offices on Sunday, anti-amendment leaders conceded defeat and accused government institutions of inappropriately promoting the amendment.

Meanwhile, government officials praised the high voter turnout and denounced the private media for distorting information in its campaign against the amendment, and the U.S. government called Sunday’s vote “fully democratic.”

“They have received more votes than we have, and we must recognize this,” said Omar Barboza, the president of the opposition political party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era), before denouncing the “unlimited advantage” the state gave to the pro-amendment campaign.

In response, Vanessa Davies, a leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), criticized the private media for joining forces with opposition political parties to campaign against the amendment. She cited a January meeting in Puerto Rico of opposition party leaders and the director of a large private news channel, Globovisión, during which the leaders admitted to having planned strategies for the referendum.

“These media outlets were on board a conspiracy against the referendum, and they were crushed by a people who made the democratic game prevail,” said Davies in a press conference on the state television channel VTV.  

“The big losers [Sunday] were not the opposition voters, who came out to vote for their option just as we revolutionaries came out to vote for ours; they were the media and the opposition party leaders who disguise propaganda as information,” said Davies.

In contrast, opposition leader Leopoldo López said the amendment’s victory marked “the materialization of violence against the constitution and the burial of the state of law.”
“We need to have a project in which all Venezuelans fit. What we have now is profound division and conflict,” said López, who until last November’s local elections represented the upper classes of Venezuela as the mayor of the wealthy Chacao district in Caracas.

The general secretary of the social democratic party PODEMOS, Ismael García, who opposed the amendment, said Venezuela’s 1999 constitution should be the blueprint for the nation’s political trajectory.

“It is no longer government vs. opposition. There is a distinct project, and that is in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” said García.

Prior to Sunday’s vote, Venezuela’s Supreme Court and National Electoral Council had reviewed and given the go-ahead to the national referendum, which the National Assembly proposed in line with constitutional procedures. In a symbolic move, since the Electoral Council did supervise the process, PSUV party activists also gathered more than the constitutionally mandated 15% of registered voters’ signatures needed to propose the amendment.

Several Venezuelan government ministers praised the turnout of more than 70% of registered voters. “This is transcendental. The massive participation of the people reduced abstention, and I think the trend is that it will continue to be reduced. The most important thing is that the people take part in the fundamental decisions of our country,” said Finance Minister Alí Rodríguez.

Venezuela’s indigenous affairs minister, Nicia Maldonado, highlighted the strong support for the amendment in Amazonas and Delta Amacuro states, where large percentages of Venezuela’s indigenous population live and where the amendment passed with 72% and 73% of the vote, respectively.

Echoing President Chávez’s post-referendum speech, Maldonado said Venezuela should now embark on a period of the three Rs, Revision, Rectification, and Re-Launch. “We must examine ourselves, and make revisions so that the people truly exercise power and that the institutions of popular power, such as the community councils, become true institutions of social management.”

U.S. State Department Says Process was Democratic

United States State Department Spokesperson Gordon Duguid said in a daily press briefing Tuesday, “It’s my understanding that the referendum took place in a fully democratic process.”

“It was a matter for the Venezuelan people,” Duguid continued. When asked about the results of the referendum, Duguid said, “The process was held consistent with democratic principles… in the United States, we have term limits, but that’s our practice.”