Chavez, Now and Forever?

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The results of yesterday's referendum on the Venzuelan constitution came as no surprise: 54.36% voted "Yes", eliminating term limits for all elected officials. Venezuela now becomes the only country in South America with no limits on re-election.

In the 24-hour period preceding the referendum, the government had expelled from the country EU parliament member Luis Herrero. The European Union parliament stated the expulsion “shows a lack of respect for democratic institutions.” People were lining up at the polls before dawn on Sunday. The polls opened at 6 a.m.. College students, who are the leading opposition groups, watched the polling places. Venezuelan bloggers liveblogged throughout the day.

Celebrating his victory from the balcony of the presidential palace, Hugo Chavez cried out, "Long live the Venezuelan revolution, long live Bolivarian socialism", broke into song, and read a letter from Fidel Castro saying "this is a victory of immeasurable magnitude." Chavez, who recently celebrated his 10th anniversary in power, also said it will take him another 10 years to fully bring about his Bolivarian revolution.

While the results mean that Chavez apparently wins indefinite re-elections, the disorganized and underfunded opposition managed to gather over 5 million votes. Al-Jazeera's Marianna Sanchez reported Chavez supporters as reluctant to have "a king" but still support him.

This morning Venezuelan government bonds dropped in reaction to the news. A Reuters analysis article (link in Spanish) forecasts further troubles in the economy due to the low price of oil, nationalization of private industry, and a possible official currency devaluation.

However, a collapse of the economy does not necessarily mean that Chavez will not be able to remain in power. This latest referendum's results, in the middle of an economic crisis, tell us that Chavez continues to consolidate power around himself.

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