ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: On Sunday, December 2, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was handed his first electoral defeat since coming to power eight years ago. Nine million Venezuelans voted on constitutional reforms which would have brought the country one step closer to what Chavez calls “21st century socialism.” Originally expected to pass, the referendum was defeated 51 to 49 percent. To help us understand what happened, the Real News spoke to Humberto Márquez, the correspondent for Inter Press Service in Caracas.
HUMBERTO MÁRQUEZ, CORRESPONDENT, IPS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez was hit with his first electoral defeat after twelve national successes. It’s the first time that President Chavez has lost an election.
HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Our people were bombarded with an intense barrage of lies and fears. Nevertheless, there were 49 percent who voted for the socialist project. In spite of everything, I think this is a big political step forward.
MÁRQUEZ: Many of the president’s followers, even though they support him, did not agree with these reforms. In my opinion, the biggest problem, the reform that people disliked the most, was his proposal that he could be re-elected over and over. This, combined with the centralization of powers to his office, which he wanted, made people think that Chavez wanted to personally control how society should be organized, how citizens should organize themselves in their communities, in their political lives. The newest and most dynamic player on the political scene over the past months was the eruption of the student movement. It began in the middle of 2007 as youthful protests because the government refused to renew the license of a popular TV station. “NO to the closure!” Students organized dozens of protests in Venezuela’s major cities against the reforms. Many people who weren’t planning on voting at all, who didn’t trust the electoral machinery, or who thought it didn’t matter, because no matter what, the president would win anyway, decided to join the university students. These people, who decided to vote at the last minute, is probably what explains that little difference between “yes” and “no.” The socialist project took a really hard blow because the constitution was not changed. They didn’t succeed in having the state declared “socialist,” so that the president could make all the changes he wanted. But, even he can’t make changes himself, quickly, he can still propose changes to parliament, and to the government, and make changes that way.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.