Venezuela passed a referendum last week that will allow President Hugo Chavez, as well as all other publicly-elected officials, to run for office indefinitely. The referendum passed with a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent. While many supporters of the referendum cheered in the streets, there were others who expressed less than enthusiastic feelings. UT students Carlos Acedo and Jean Paul Behrens shared their thoughts with The Minaret on the constitutional change that occurred in their home country.
Do you think that Chavez passed the referendum fairly?
Carlos Acedo: Yes and no. The official results show that he actually won. Since he first won the election, he has been taking control of all the institutions of the government. The current vice president of Venezuela also used to be head of the organization that controls elections. This is just one example of how Chavez has too much influence on the formal organizations in the country.
Jean Pierre Behrens: Not at all. For example, I couldn’t vote. The consulate in Miami would not let me register. Imagine all the people that are outside Venezuela that couldn’t do that.
Chavez could not pass the referendum allowing indefinite terms in 2007. How was he able to pass it now?
CA: What Chavez wanted to do was a complete overhaul of the constitution. One of the major laws he wanted to pass was this referendum. He took all the major changes he wanted to make and broke them down into little packages of laws, and he is going to try to pass them progressively, not all at once as before. The change would have been too extreme and he realized that.
In the new referendum, he included a provision that said all government officials could run for indefinite terms. Do you think that was a huge factor?
CA: He realized that if he was the only one to be re-elected, he would not have the support of the people in the congress that could actually vote for this referendum. When he switched the referendum to allow all public officials the chance to be re-elected for indefinite terms, he gained the support of all of the people of his party. Even if someone other than Chavez comes into power, nobody is going to take that law away. Power corrupts people, and that is one law that allows people to become more corrupted. If you stay in power for too long, at some point you become a tyrant. I think it hurts the democracy.
What are the chances that someone will actually beat him in the next elections?
JPB: I am always on the positive side of things. I always tell everyone we have to fight for 2012. Many people did not vote in this election. If we actually get people to vote, we could still beat him. We have beaten him before. It is just that the opposition right now is so disorganized.
CA:’ At this point, I don’t think that somebody will be able to take him out of office without a fair election process. Chavez has complete control of the political institutions in Venezuela. There are twenty-two states and twenty of the governors are from his party. He controls pretty much 90 percent of the country.
What is the general feeling in Venezuela about the referendum passing?
CA: From what I heard, people are really depressed. You can actually notice an atmosphere of failure in the people. Everybody was feeling like they could have done something, but didn’t. Some people were really mad about those who didn’t actually vote around 33 percent. With that 33 percent you could have made a difference and stopped the process.
What do you think a Venezuela with Chavez in power would look like?
JPB: Venezuela is in such disorganization. For example, the central bank accounting and auditing have to be released to the public so that everyone can see the balance sheet of the central bank. That procedure has been lagging for a year and a half, so there is a whole year and a half of operations that are unaccounted for.
If Chavez stays in power, imagine how it will be. The social side would be even worse. Before Chavez there were social divisions, but we still managed to live together happily. We were the most capitalistic society in Latin America.
Not everyone was rich, but we still got along. Now there is a lot of resentment towards those who have things. Socially, classes resent each other and we have social insecurity. I just can’t see a happy future with Chavez in power.
Jillian Randel can be reached to firstname.lastname@example.org