The Venezuelan people emerged victorious after the referendum that would have granted President Hugo Chavez vast powers to further the conversion of the South American nation’s economy into full-fledged socialism.
In Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo and other major cities, large crowds spilled into the streets, shouting, chanting, clapping and waving flags. One man carried a sign proclaiming, “Vota No,” which by Monday was more an exclamation than an imperative after voters the day before dismissed 69 proposed amendments to Venezuela’s 1999 constitution.
Chavez refuses to accept defeat gracefully, however, saying that he will keep pushing his agenda until voters get tired of rejecting him.
“Not a single comma of this proposal will be withdrawn,” he said, holding up a small red book containing the text of the proposed changes. “I will continue proposing this to the Venezuelan people. The proposal is alive, not dead.”
One of the more controversial proposed amendments would have abolished term limits, allowing Chavez to hold office indefinitely as long as he is re-elected.
The 53-year-old Venezuelan president, who was elected in 1998 as the country’s youngest-ever president, has twice been re-elected by large margins. However, the present law prohibits Chavez from seeking re-election when his term ends in 2012.
Another amendment on the ballot would have pushed the country more toward socialism. Chavez has said he should have full authority over the autonomous Central Bank as well as the nation’s economic policy. These measures, Chavez has said, are necessary to move the economy toward socialism.
The measures are indeed necessary because, as we’ve now seen, the Venezuelan people are not convinced that implementing an economic system that has failed miserably in every country in which it’s been tried is a good idea. And some of them are smart enough to recognize that today’s triumph is not the end of the battle.
Many of Monday’s revelers were university students who had worked doggedly to defeat the proposals. They burst into singing the national anthem upon hearing news that their efforts paid off.
“This is not a moment only for students; it is for the whole country,” student Juan Andres Mejia said. “It’s time for us to start walking the same path to walking together, and I think this day could be the start of a new republic of a new Venezuela.”
It could be; however, that does not seem likely. Chavez will undoubtedly cling to power and use his position to implement his ideas piecemeal now that the wholesale approach has been turned back.
Indeed, one wonders if Chavez will now govern the country to the best of his ability given the outcome of the vote or if, like a dirty prize fighter betting the wrong way, he will take a dive in order to get a bit of payback out of those who voted against him. A functioning economy creates no need for his preferred type of government. Might he deliberately create circumstances in which the people find his kind of help appealing enough to pawn their freedom?
As of now there is no overt reason to think so. Yet one thing is certain: Venezuelans cannot afford to take more than a brief moment to enjoy the freedom they still enjoy before becoming vigilant once more.