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Walsh: Venezuelan Vote a 'Victory' for Democracy

Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewee: John M. Walsh, Senior Associate for the Andes and Drug Policy, Washington Office on Latin America
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor

December 3, 2007

John M. Walsh, an expert on politics in the Andean countries of South America at the Washington Office on Latin America, says the failure of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's constitutional reform proposal on December 2 represents a “heavy defeat.” The reform called for roughly seventy changes to the constitution, the most notable of which would have allowed him to be reelected beyond his two terms. Walsh says that “a lot of Venezuelans, including probably a lot of his own supporters—people who had voted for him and would vote for him again—were afraid of such power in one person’s hands.”

As a veteran observer of Venezuelan politics, were you surprised as much as I was that Chavez’s various proposed changes were rejected?

I was surprised, given Chavez’s stellar record of never having lost a vote. This is the first time in eleven opportunities that he has ever lost. On the other hand, it had become especially clear in the week leading up to the vote that his reform proposals were in trouble. I think he knew that as well.

What caused his main troubles?

His main trouble was that he went too fast. These reform proposals almost sunk of their own weight. There’s a sort of grandiosity about them. People didn’t see the need for that level of change so quickly. Keep in mind that he had just won a resounding reelection last December [2006], with 63 percent of the vote. He controls the executive, his allies control the congress, and he has firm control over the judiciary. It was unclear to people what further powers he needed in order to promote his agenda.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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