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Venezuela votes on Chavez changes..

Old 12-02-07, 11:58 PM
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Venezuela votes on Chavez changes..

Looks like Chavez is losing (or lost) this one. He doesn't seem like the type to accept defeat. Things could heat up in Venezuela very quickly.

Chavez Loses Constitutional Vote

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - President Hugo Chavez suffered a stinging defeat in a vote on constitutional changes that would have let him run for re-election indefinitely, the chief of National Electoral Council said Monday.

Voters defeated the sweeping measures by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent, Tibisay Lucena said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP)—A vote on sweeping constitutional reforms that could let Hugo Chavez hold the presidency for life remained unresolved early Monday, with the government saying it was too close to call and the opposition pressing for results.

Tensions grew as hours passed after the official close of voting with no announcement of results. The referendum on constitutional changes was a critical test for a leader bent on turning this major U.S. oil provider into a socialist state.

An emboldened opposition and clashes during student-led protests in recent weeks prompted fears of bitter conflict if either side disputed the results.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said early Monday that "the time has come to announce the results to the country." Capriles earlier had noted that 97 percent of polling stations are automated.

Another opposition spokesman Leopoldo Lopez, mayor of the Caracas district of Chacao, claimed earlier that results seen by election monitors "indicate the 'no' vote is going to win."

Caravans of Chavez's supporters had taken to the streets after polls closed, honking horns and blaring celebratory music in anticipation of victory. But their enthusiasm appeared to fade as the hours wore on.

"The result of the referendum is close," Vice President Jorge Rodriguez said from Chavez's campaign headquarters. "We will respect the result, whatever it is—even if it's by one single vote."

Chavez's opponents fear a win by the president could mean a plunge toward dictatorship. Supporters have faith that Chavez would use the reforms to deepen grass-roots democracy and more equitably spread Venezuela's oil wealth.

The changes would help transform the major U.S. oil provider into a socialist state. They would create new forms of communal property, let Chavez handpick local leaders under a redrawn political map, permit civil liberties to be suspended under extended states of emergency and allow Chavez to seek re-election indefinitely. Otherwise, he cannot run again in 2012.

Chavez warned opponents ahead of the vote he would not tolerate attempts to incite violence, and threatened to cut off oil exports to the U.S. if Washington interferes. Chavez calls those who resist his socialist agenda pawns of President Bush.

"He's going to be an elected dictator," 77-year-old voter Ruben Rozenberg said of Chavez. The retired blue jeans maker, who emigrated from Cuba in 1961, said that although Chavez's revolution is peaceful compared to that of Fidel Castro, "we've been violated all around" by the Venezuelan leader's progressive consolidation of power.

Across town, in a pro-Chavez slum, 40-year-old Jorge Blanco said Chavez "is giving power to the people" through the reforms.

"He opened that little door and now we're free." Of the wealthy elite, Blanco said: "What they fear is losing power."

The government touted pre-election polls showing Chavez with an advantage, while surveys cited by the opposition indicated strong resistance—unfamiliar territory for a leader who easily won re- election last year with 63 percent of the vote.

Casting his ballot, Chavez called the electronic voting system "one of the most modern in the world, one of the most transparent in the world."

His opponents have questioned the National Electoral Council's impartiality, however, especially after Chavez named Rodriguez, its former chief, his vice president in January.

About 100 electoral observers from 39 countries in Latin America, Europe and the United States were on hand, the electoral council said. Absent were the Organization of American States and the European Union, which have monitored past votes.

All was reported calm during voting but 45 people were detained, most for committing ballot-related crimes like "destroying electoral materials," said Gen. Jesus Gonzalez, chief of a military command overseeing security.

At a polling station in one politically divided Caracas neighborhood, Chavez supporters shouted "Get out of here!" to opposition backers who stood nearby aiming to monitor the vote count. A few dozen Chavistas rode by on motorcycles with bandanas and hats covering their faces, some throwing firecrackers.

Opponents—including Roman Catholic leaders, press freedom groups, human rights groups and prominent business leaders—fear the reforms would grant Chavez unchecked power and threaten basic rights.

Cecilia Goldberger, a 56-year-old voting in affluent eastern Caracas, said Venezuelans were being hoodwinked and do not really understand how Chavez's power grab will affect them.

She resented pre-dawn, get-out-the-vote tactics by Chavistas, including fireworks and reveille blaring from speakers mounted on cruising trucks.

"I refuse to be treated like cattle and I refuse to be part of a communist regime," the Israeli-born Goldberger said, adding that she and her businessman husband hope to leave the country.

Chavez sought to capitalize on his personal popularity ahead of the vote.

He is seen by many as a champion of the poor who has redistributed more oil wealth than any other leader in memory. Chavez, 53, says he will stay in power only as long as Venezuelans keep re-electing him—but has added that might be until 2050, when he would be 95 years old. The reforms would also grant Chavez control over the Central Bank and extend presidential terms from six to seven years.

Many Chavez supporters say he needs more time in office to consolidate his unique brand of "21st century socialism," and praise other proposed changes such as shortening the workday from eight hours to six, creating a social security fund for millions of informal laborers and promoting communal councils where residents decide how to spend government funds.

Tensions have surged in recent weeks as university students led protests and occasionally clashed with police and Chavista groups.

Some 140,000 soldiers and reservists were posted for the vote, the Defense Ministry said.

Electoral council chief Tibisay Lucena called the vote "the calmest we've had in the last 10 years."
Update: CNN is saying "Venezuela President Hugo Chavez accepts narrow loss in vote that would have let him run for re-election indefinitely." I'm surprised he would take it so easily..
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Old 12-03-07, 12:13 AM
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There's always next year...
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Old 12-03-07, 12:52 AM
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Who will he blame in 2009?
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Old 12-03-07, 05:50 AM
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Nice But he is still president until 2012!
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Old 12-03-07, 07:31 AM
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funny how he depends on us to buy his oil and we depend on him for our oil but we both hate each other.

So he still has until 2012 to get a change to the constitution?
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Old 12-03-07, 11:03 AM
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Did Sean Penn or Harry Belafonte campaign for Hugo?
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Old 12-03-07, 11:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Venusian
funny how he depends on us to buy his oil and we depend on him for our oil but we both hate each other.
We purchased oil from Iraq prior to the invasion.
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Old 12-03-07, 11:31 AM
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It would be interesting to see the polling breakdown on this measure. Was he trying to attach the removal of term limits to otherwise popular issues? It seems to me the removal of limits pales in comparison to the other reforms, although I may not fully appreciate how difficult it would be to otherwise remove him from office.
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Old 12-03-07, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Venusian
funny how he depends on us to buy his oil and we depend on him for our oil but we both hate each other.
He depends on the world to buy the oil and the world depends on him for oil.

If we didn't get it from him someone else would. And we would get oil from where they used to. Just the transportation costs and logistics would change a bit.
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