Chavez outlines proposal to overhaul Constitution

REVOLUTIONARY: The Venezuelan president called for an end to term limits, a six-hour work day and the power to appropriate military regions for defense purposes


Fri, Aug 17, 2007 - Page 7

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez outlined a proposed overhaul to the Constitution on Wednesday night that would allow him to remain in power indefinitely through perpetual re-elections, an intensification of his efforts to assert greater state control over political and economic institutions.

Taking aim at opponents who say he is assuming too much power, Chavez said, "I recommend they take a pill, what do they call it, a Valium."

During a meandering, theatrical speech at the National Assembly, he said, "We have broken the chains of the old hegemonic oligarchy."

He also laid out a dizzying array of other proposed changes to the Constitution, all to be put before a congressional vote and a national referendum.

He called for a six-hour work day, the power to designate military regions for "defense reasons," the creation of regional governing entities that would be managed by vice presidents to be appointed by the president and demarcating Venezuela's sovereignty in parts of the Caribbean by possibly building artificial islands.

The president's opponents see such proposals as window dressing to accompany Chavez's polemical re-election ambitions, which include expanding presidential terms from six years to seven. Manuel Rosales, the governor of Zulia State and the main opposition candidate in the presidential elections last December, said in televised comments that after Chavez's call to abandon term limits, the other proposals were "adornments."

Criticism of the effort to change the Constitution has sharpened around fears that Chavez could use it to diminish the power of elected governors and mayors, of which a handful in the country still oppose him.

Seemingly undeterred by the criticism, which he described as lies coming from counterrevolutionaries, Chavez delivered a speech sprinkled with references to Machiavelli and Aristotle and more recent Marxist Italian philosophers like Antonio Gramsci and Antonio Negri.

State television championed his proposals on Wednesday, and supporters gathered before television cameras near the National Assembly to chant "Fatherland, Socialism or Death!"