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Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2007

Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2007

Overview

A constitutional referendum was held in Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

 on 2 December 2007 to amend
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

 69 articles of the 1999 Constitution
Constitution of Venezuela
||The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the current and twenty-sixth constitution of Venezuela. It was drafted in mid-1999 by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum. Adopted in December 1999, it replaced the 1961 Constitution - the longest...

. Reform was needed, according to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...

, to implement his socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 agenda; detractors said he was using the reforms to become a dictator.

The referendum was narrowly defeated, giving Chávez the first election loss of his nine-year presidency
Presidency of Hugo Chávez
Venezuela under the presidency of Hugo Chávez has seen sweeping and radical shifts in social policy, moving away from the government officially embracing a free market economy and neoliberal reform principles and towards quasi-socialist income redistribution and social welfare programs. Chávez has...

.
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Quotations

Nothing is more dangerous to reason than the flights of the imagination and nothing has been the occasion of more mistakes among philosophers. Men of bright fancies may in this respect be compared to those angels whom the scripture represents as covering their eyes with their wings.

A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume, Book 1, Section 4, p.225

Philosophy makes progress not by becoming more rigorous but by becoming more imaginative.

Introduction to Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers by Richard Rorty, Volume 3, 1998.

The conception of the necessary unit of all that is resolves itself into the poverty of the imagination, and a freer logic emancipates us from the straitwaistcoated benevolent institution, which idealism palms off as the totality of being.

Our Knowledge of the External World by Bertrand Russell

The true function of logic,... as applied to matters of experience,... is analytic rather than constructive; taken a priori, it shows the possibility of hitherto unsuspected alternatives more often than the impossibility of alternatives which seemed prima facie possible. Thus, while it liberates imagination as to what the world may be, it refuses to legislate as to what the world is.

Our Knowledge of the External World by Bertrand Russell

Science does not know its debt to imagination.

Poetry and Imagination by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1872.

Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.

Introduction to Men at War by Ernest Hemingway, 1942.

There is no life I knowthat compares to pure imaginationLiving there you'll be freeif you truly wish to be

Pure Imagination|Pure Imagination by Gene Wilder, 1971.

Impossibility is only the figment of an insufficient imagination.

The Song Of Sin by Phil Duncan, 1998.
Encyclopedia

A constitutional referendum was held in Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

 on 2 December 2007 to amend
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

 69 articles of the 1999 Constitution
Constitution of Venezuela
||The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the current and twenty-sixth constitution of Venezuela. It was drafted in mid-1999 by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum. Adopted in December 1999, it replaced the 1961 Constitution - the longest...

. Reform was needed, according to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...

, to implement his socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 agenda; detractors said he was using the reforms to become a dictator.

The referendum was narrowly defeated, giving Chávez the first election loss of his nine-year presidency
Presidency of Hugo Chávez
Venezuela under the presidency of Hugo Chávez has seen sweeping and radical shifts in social policy, moving away from the government officially embracing a free market economy and neoliberal reform principles and towards quasi-socialist income redistribution and social welfare programs. Chávez has...

. University student protests
2007 Venezuelan demonstrations
Venezuelan demonstrations for and against President Hugo Chávez's proposed 2 December constitutional referendum occurred after the National Assembly approved the referendum on 2 November 2007....

 and opposition from former allies helped fuel the defeat, but the referendum results and the 44% abstention rate suggest that support also waned among Chávez's traditional base of Venezuela's poor. Chávez conceded defeat by saying "for now, we couldn't" ("por ahora no pudimos"), echoing the phrase he used after the failure of the February 1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt.

Proposal



On 15 August 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...

 proposed an amendment to 33 articles of Venezuela's 350-article Constitution
Constitution of Venezuela
||The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the current and twenty-sixth constitution of Venezuela. It was drafted in mid-1999 by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum. Adopted in December 1999, it replaced the 1961 Constitution - the longest...

. A constitutional provision allows the president, the National Assembly of Venezuela
National Assembly of Venezuela
The National Assembly is the legislative branch of the Venezuelan government. It is a unicameral body made up of a variable number of members, who are elected by "universal, direct, personal, and secret" vote partly by direct election in state-based voting districts, and partly on a state-based...

 or a constituent assembly to ask for changes; reform should be approved by a national referendum. The 1999 constitution was promoted by Chávez and adopted by popular referendum. The proposed constitutional reforms were needed, according to Chávez, to complete the transition to a socialist republic and implement his socialist agenda
Bolivarian Revolution
The “Bolivarian Revolution” refers to a leftist social movement and political process in Venezuela led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the founder of the Fifth Republic Movement...

; detractors said he was using the reforms to become a dictator. The proposal was hailed by government supporters as "the start of a new era towards socialism", but Podemos
For Social Democracy
PODEMOS is a political party in Venezuela. In the 2005 legislative elections the party won 15 out of 165 seats in the National Assembly....

, a pro-government party, expressed disagreement and claimed Chávez was seeking lifelong power.

Venezuela's constitutional procedures require three debates before the National Assembly, in which all 167 seats are held by pro-Chávez parties, to reform the constitution. The first debate was successfully held on 21 August 2007 and gave initial approval to the general purpose of the reform. During the second successful vote on 11 September 2007, the National Assembly added amendments to the original Chávez reform proposal, again angering the Podemos party, which said that the National Assembly had infringed the Constitution. The third vote on 25 October 2007 approved the proposal, enlarged from 33 articles to 69. Final parliamentary approval for the referendum was given on 2 November 2007.

The final proposal included 69 constitutional amendments to be voted on in two blocks: 33 that were originally proposed by President Chávez plus another 13 articles introduced by the National Assembly (Proposal A) and 23 more reform articles proposed by the National Assembly (Proposal B). Proposed changes included:
  • abolish presidential term limits, allowing for indefinite re-election of the president (not allowed for any other political post),
  • expand social security benefits to workers in the informal economy
    Informal economy
    The informal sector or informal economy as defined by governments, scholars, banks, etc. is the part of an economy that is not taxed, monitored by any form of government, or included in any gross national product , unlike the formal economy....

    ,
  • end the autonomy of the central bank
    Central bank
    A central bank, reserve bank, or monetary authority is a public institution that usually issues the currency, regulates the money supply, and controls the interest rates in a country. Central banks often also oversee the commercial banking system of their respective countries...

    , giving control to the president, and place the president in charge of administering the country's international reserves,
  • prohibit large land estates, while "allowing the state to provisionally occupy property slated for expropriation before a court has ruled",
  • reorganize the country's administrative districts and allow the president to control elected state governors
    States of Venezuela
    Venezuela is divided into 23 states , 1 Capital District and the Federal Dependencies that consist of a large number of Venezuelan islands...

     and mayors by an unelected “popular power” dependent on the presidency,
  • reduce the maximum working week from 44 to 36 hours and reduce the workday from eight to six hours,
  • lower the voting age from 18 to 16,
  • increase the presidential term from six to seven years,
  • allow the president to declare an unlimited state of emergency,
  • prohibit foreign funding for political associations.
  • allow public funding for political associations.
  • ban discrimination based on sexual orientation
    Sexual orientation
    Sexual orientation describes a pattern of emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither, and the genders that accompany them. By the convention of organized researchers, these attractions are subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality,...

    .
  • Change the name of Caracas to "Bolivar's Cradle and Queen of the Guaraira Repano" (La Cuna de Bolivar y Reina del Guaraira Repano)

Campaign



In November 2007, demonstrations
2007 Venezuelan demonstrations
Venezuelan demonstrations for and against President Hugo Chávez's proposed 2 December constitutional referendum occurred after the National Assembly approved the referendum on 2 November 2007....

 arose in Caracas
Caracas
Caracas , officially Santiago de León de Caracas, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela; natives or residents are known as Caraquenians in English . It is located in the northern part of the country, following the contours of the narrow Caracas Valley on the Venezuelan coastal mountain range...

, Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

 and six other cities over the proposed constitutional changes. "Tens of thousands" of "Yes" voters marched in Caracas after the referendum had finally been approved on 2 November. A 7 November riot at the Central University of Venezuela
Central University of Venezuela
The Central University of Venezuela is a premier public University of Venezuela located in Caracas...

 resulted in gunfire and several injuries; footage was caught on tape. In late November 2007, just days before the referendum, tens of thousands marched in Caracas for both the "Yes" and "No" votes. An opposition politician estimated the crowd marching for the "No" vote at 160,000. Protests were largely peaceful, and only one death has been reported.

Some of Chávez's supporters expressed concerns and disagreement with his proposals to change the constitution. Many voters abstained in the vote, rather than cast a "No" vote against Chávez. The student movement played a crucial role in consolidating this position and in organizing numerous rallies. The student movement has played a large role in the Venezuelan political process, having gained a prominent position during the RCTV broadcast license expiration protests. Although the student movement is not limited to the opposition, it has been the opposition students that have gained the largest support, in part because they are not officially affiliated with any political cadres. After the election the student movement was awarded $500,000 from libertarian Cato Institute
Cato Institute
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, who remains president and CEO, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc., the largest privately held...

 located in Washington, D.C. USA.

Raúl Baduel
Raúl Baduel
Raúl Isaías Baduel is a Venezuelan politician, retired general, and former Defense Minister under President Hugo Chávez. He was a member of Chavez' MBR-200, joining in December 1982.-Military:...

, former Minister of Defense and one of the four founding members of Chávez's Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200
Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200
The Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 was the political and social movement that current Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez founded in 1982. It eventually planned and executed the February 4, 1992 attempted coup...

, expressed his concern by describing the reform as "nothing less than an attempt to establish a socialist state in Venezuela ... [which] is contrary to the beliefs of Simón Bolívar
Simón Bolívar
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Yeiter, commonly known as Simón Bolívar was a Venezuelan military and political leader...

 and it is also contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society, because it grants the state absolute control over the people it governs". Other leaders and former Chávez supporters who distanced themselves from the proposal were Ismael García
Ismael García
Ismael García is a Venezuelan politician. He is the leader of For Social Democracy, a socialist party which won the second most seats in the National Assembly of Venezuela in the 2005 election....

, a deputy in the National Assembly, and Ramón Martínez, governor of Sucre State. Marisabel Rodríguez
Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez
Marisabel Rodríguez Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist, publicist and radio announcer. She is best known for having been the second wife of current Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.- Early life :...

, Chávez's ex-wife, called the proposed changes an attempt to achieve "an absolute concentration of power".

CIA allegations


Venezuela's state television network broadcast coverage prior to the referendum of a memo written in Spanish, claiming it evidenced a plan by the C.I.A.
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 to destabilize Chávez—an allegation referred to as Operation Pliers
Operation Pliers
Operation Pliers, also known as Operación Tenaza or Operation Pincers is the name of an alleged U.S. Central Intelligence Agency plan to incite insurrection following the 2 December 2007 referendum on constitutional changes in Venezuela...

. Chávez threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States if violence resulted from the referendum and declared at his campaign's closing that "whoever voted 'Yes' was voting for Hugo Chávez, but whoever voted 'No' was voting for George W. Bush". The U.S. has responded by calling the allegations "ridiculous" and "a fake". Independent analysts doubt the authenticity of the document, noting both the lack of an original document in English and that "the timing of its release is strange."

Polls



Polls from November saw very close results. In mid-November, a Hinterlaces poll found that 51% of decided voters supported the change, while Mecanálisis said 64% of decided voters would vote against reform. A poll by Keller & Asociados concluded defeat for the proposal with 45% "No" to 31% "Yes" votes; about 65% of eligible people planned to vote. A late-November poll by Datanalisis of 1,854 likely voters indicated 49% were opposed, with 39% in favor. Reportedly, some moderate
Moderate
In politics and religion, a moderate is an individual who is not extreme, partisan or radical. In recent years, political moderates has gained traction as a buzzword....

 Chávez backers were likely to vote "No"; it was the first Datanalisis survey to project a loss, contrasted with earlier surveys that showed a win for Chávez "amid low turnout and despite widespread skepticism of his proposal".

Results


The proposal was narrowly defeated, 51 to 49 percent, in the first major electoral defeat for Chávez in the nine years of his presidency. Chávez conceded defeat, saying, "I congratulate my adversaries for this victory", and "for now, we could not do it."



Response



In conceding defeat, Chávez insisted that he would "continue in the battle to build socialism". Although two days later Chavez called "victoria de mierda" (shitty victory) to the results, further saying that "but already you are covering it (the victory) in shit". Manuel Rosales
Manuel Rosales
Manuel Antonio Rosales Guerrero is a Venezuelan educator and politician and was the most prominent opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential election, losing to incumbent Hugo Chávez...

, a 2006 Venezuelan presidential candidate
Venezuelan presidential election, 2006
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela held presidential elections on 3 December 2006, to choose a president for the six-year term to begin on 10 January 2007...

, said, "Tonight, Venezuela has won". Leopoldo López
Leopoldo López
Leopoldo López Mendoza is a Venezuelan politician and economist. From 2000 until 2008, López was the mayor of the Chacao Municipality of Caracas. A 2006 Los Angeles Times article describes López as an immensely popular leader of the opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as well as a...

, a popular opposition mayor, said "Venezuela won today, democracy won today".

Latin American media responses included special reports that highlighted Chávez's first electoral setback in nine years and his ethical acceptance of defeat. According to a Mercosur
Mercosur
Mercosur or Mercosul is an economic and political agreement among Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Founded in 1991 by the Treaty of Asunción, which was later amended and updated by the 1994 Treaty of Ouro Preto. Its purpose is to promote free trade and the fluid movement of goods, people,...

 press release, the general Latin American response was praise for the "democratic maturity" evidenced by the Venezuelan people. Brazil's Foreign Affairs Minister, Celso Amorin, said "The president accepted the result in a very calm and elegant manner." President Felipe Calderón of Mexico said Chávez had shown " ... enormous valor to admit such results". Spain's Foreign Affairs minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, said that "free expression of people's sovereignty has been accepted by all sides including those who had promoted the referendum". Néstor Kirchner
Néstor Kirchner
Néstor Carlos Kirchner was an Argentine politician who served as the 54th President of Argentina from 25 May 2003 until 10 December 2007. Previously, he was Governor of Santa Cruz Province since 10 December 1991. He briefly served as Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations ...

, Argentine President described Chávez as a "great democrat". A response characterized by Mercosur as "blunt" came from Cuban Foreign Affairs minister Felipe Perez Roque: "those who have organized plots to destabilize Venezuela, to abolish its democratically elected government and even attempt a coup against President Chávez are active and we hope that they quit and let the Venezuelan people build their future in peace".

The U.S. administration of President George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 hailed the defeat as a victory for democracy. Bush said, "The Venezuelan people rejected one-man rule. They voted for democracy." A National Security Council spokesman said, "We congratulate the people of Venezuela on their vote and their continued desire to live in freedom and democracy". A State Department Undersecretary said, "We felt that this referendum would make Chávez president for life, and that’s not ever a welcome development. In a country that wants to be a democracy, the people spoke, and the people spoke for democracy and against unlimited power."

The Organization of American States
Organization of American States
The Organization of American States is a regional international organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States...

 Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza called the results of the referendum an "exemplary development" on the part of the Venezuelan government and people, saying that democracy in the Americas "passed a difficult test and emerged stronger, showing clearly its consolidation." Reporters without Borders
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders is a France-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press. It was founded in 1985, by Robert Ménard, Rony Brauman and the journalist Jean-Claude Guillebaud. Jean-François Julliard has served as Secretary General since 2008...

 expressed hope that the result of the vote would end the "media war" in Venezuela.

The day after the referendum, financial markets were buoyed by Chávez's defeat; Venezuelan bonds rose and the stock index in Caracas surged 4% following a year-to-date 24% decline.

Continued plans for reform


Chávez said on 5 December that he intended to launch a second attempt to change the Constitution. According to El Universal
El Universal (Caracas)
El Universal is a major Venezuelan newspaper, headquartered in Caracas with an average daily circulation of about 150,000. The online version carries news, politics, sports, economy and more....

newspaper, he said: Responding to George W. Bush's remarks, he said: During a press conference with the military high command, he expressed on Venezolana de Televisión
Venezolana de Televisión
Corporación Venezolana de Televisión or VTV is a state-owned television network based in Caracas, Venezuela, which can be seen throughout the country on channel eight...

 the possibility of bringing the proposal back in "the same form, transformed or simplified" in a future referendum and the creation of the bolivarian militias by modifying the laws regarding the armed forces. He also described the opposition's victory as "full of shit" and his defeat as "full of courage, valor and dignity".

A month after the referendum was defeated, Chávez named Ramon Carrizales to replace vice-president Jorge Rodríguez
Jorge Rodríguez (politician)
Dr. Jorge Rodríguez Gómez is a Venezuelan politician and psychiatrist who was Vice President of Venezuela from January 2007 to January 2008. He is currently the Mayor of the Libertador Municipality in Caracas....

, who had been blamed by many Chávez supporters for the failed referendum.

External links