In December 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held a referendum in an effort to change the Venezuelan constitution. Even though he already controlled the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, almost every state government, and the entire federal bureaucracy, the 69 amendments put forward in the referendum would have ended presidential term limits and centralized Chavez’s power. According to the current constitution, Chavez’s term is scheduled to expire in 2013.
While the referendum was rejected by 51% of the voters, it didn’t halt Chavez’s efforts to consolidate his power. Last year he enacted 26 new laws but only provided their titles, not their content. He also continued to push for ending presidential term limits. On February 15, the country will vote again on those term limits. Unfortunately, political opposition to Chavez has few resources and no unified leadership. Student demonstrators have been tear-gassed and fired at with rubber bullets by police. Nonetheless, a large demonstration was held last weekend.
A limitless term for Chavez will have ramifications not just for Venezuelans but for the entire world. The country’s business environment has been rated by the Economist as the world’s second worst; Venezuela’s official inflation rate of 31% is rated number one out of the 82 world currencies tracked by Bloomberg; a computer belonging to FARC (Revolutionary Armed Members of Colombia) members revealed that Chavez had sent hundreds of millions of oil dollars to the Colombian terrorists; and just last week, three low-intensity explosions in Caracas — at a statue of George Washington, the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Caracas, and a judicial building — created further insecurity, as Stratfor and other analysts were unable to ascertain who was behind the attacks.
Furthermore, since taking office in February 1999, Chavez has forged increasingly strong ties with Iran, including:
- In December 2008, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that Iran is using Venezuelan aircraft to ship missile parts to Syria, thereby dodging United Nations sanctions.
- The same newspaper also reported that Venezuela’s airline, Conviasa, transports computers and engine components from the Iranian industrial group Shahid Bagheri, which is involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program.
- Iran Air initiated direct air service between Tehran, Damascus, and Caracas at Chavez’s invitation.
- Western anti-terrorism officials are concerned that Hezbollah may be using Venezuela as a base for operations, including kidnappings, extortion, and drug smuggling.
Chavez also consistently rants against the U.S. in his radio and TV program, Aló Presidente, rarely missing an opportunity to blame the CIA for creating mayhem or trying to oust him. And he is also in sync with Iran when it comes to his views on Israel and the Jews. He has a long record of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel statements.
In December 2005, a Venezuelan blog — The Devil’s Excrement — translated Chavez’s televised rant:
The world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ, the descendants of the same ones that kicked Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there in Santa Marta, in Colombia. A minority has taken possession all of the wealth of the world, a minority has taken ownership of all of the gold of the planet, of the silver, of the minerals, the waters, the good lands, oil, of the wealth then and have concentrated the wealth in a few hands.