The Revolution Is Here to Stay, Chavez Says

By Leandro Prada | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT

Buenos Aires ( - As Venezuela and the wider region grapple with the implications of Sunday's referendum defeat for leftist President Hugo Chavez' attempts to rewrite his country's constitution, some analysts believe he will keep trying.

By a slim margin, voters rejected 69 amendments that included throwing out presidential term limits and other measures that would have given him greater powers.

Chavez told supporters that the outcome was not a defeat, but "another 'for now,'" a clear reference to the phrase he used when surrendering after taking part in a failed coup attempt against then-President Carlos Andres Perez in 1992.

"We were not able [to amend the constitution] for now, but I will not take back even a comma of the reform," he Chavez.

By law, a president can only propose constitutional reform once during a single term of office.

Chavez told the state-owned Venezolana de Television channel on Wednesday that since he was disqualified from doing so, others could resubmit the proposed amendments.

"People have the capacity to take my initiative and modify it in order to make it easier to understand, provided that it keeps its main objective, which is to transform the state," he said.

He dismissed those who see the referendum outcome as a defeat for his socialist program.

"Those who are going around saying that the revolution suffered a defeat, let me tell them that revolution is stronger than ever. The Bolivarian Revolution is here to stay.""

The referendum was the first electoral defeat suffered by Chavez since he won the presidency in late 1998.

"Now that the myth of an invincible Chavez is broken ... everyone will have to adjust to the new reality," political analyst Oscar Raul Cardoso wrote in the Buenos Aires daily, Clarin.

In the same paper, Brazilian analyst Gilberto Dupas of the Institute of Economic and International Studies in Sao Paulo said the result "opens up a gate of opportunity [for the opposition] to reorganize democracy in Venezuela."

But Carola Chavez, a pro-Chavez writer, told Cybercast News Service that Venezuelans had not voted against the president. "Perhaps those who abstained did so to call his attention to [other characters in government] and the incompetence of civil servants," she said.

Noting Chavez' acceptance of the referendum result, she said the opposition, if it was serious, could no longer use the argument that he was a "dictator."

Venezuelan political analyst Gonzalo Iribarren said in an interview that "the overwhelmingly majority of reaction both inside and outside [the country] has been relief and satisfaction. It was no little thing at stake."

Iribarren said the opposition had learned a lot in the campaign, "among other things to work together."

He predicted that the "face-off between Chavez and the opposition will continue, and will become more evident as economic chaos increases, with shortages, inflation, unemployment, etc."

The referendum result could have an effect in the wider region, too.

Several other Latin American leftist leaders, including Evo Morales of Bolivia and Ecuador's Rafael Correa, have also been looking at making constitutional changes to implement Chavez-style "21st century socialism."

Morales' proposed constitutional reforms sparked violent protests last month. Correa is promoting radical changes too, which so far have drawn little domestic opposition.

Florida Republican Rep. Connie Mack, a sharp critic of Chavez, said although Venezuelan voters had "rejected" his revolution, Chavez is set to remain in office until 2012 and the U.S. and international community would have to keep a watchful eye on him.

"While he has been temporarily stymied from achieving his goal of total power in Venezuela, Chavez certainly will not give up his dream," Heritage Foundation scholars James Roberts and Ray Walser said in a memo, describing the president's restrained acceptance of the result as "an act."

"He will try again after a decent interval, probably scaling back the scope of his 'reforms' and no doubt hoping that democratic countries will have been lulled into complacency," they said.

Roberts and Walser said the administration should bolster ties with Colombia and other neighbors of Venezuela and together with Congress should "press forward with ideas and programs to sustain and support a democratic opposition in Venezuela.""

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