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Uh! Ah! La Enmienda Va!

by Julie Webb-Pullman

Uh! Ah! La Enmienda Va!

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Celebratory fireworks light up the Caracas sky

Or for the non-Spanish-speakers, Uh! Ah! The Amendment is coming! Article 230 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which limits the presidency to two six-year terms, is proposed to be amended to remove the words "...for two terms only," allowing presidential candidates to remain in office for as long as the electorate continues to vote for them – just like the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia, and most of the Heads of State of Europe and Asia.

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Chavista Territory - very very red!

In a massive show of support, almost five million signatures (4,760,845 in all),were collected in the last week, well-exceeding the 30% required to call a referendum to begin the amendment's passage through parliament. The February referendum will be the fourteenth time Venezuelans have been to the polls in 11 years in yet another example of participatory democracy, the open and consultative style of government favoured by Chávez.

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Dancing in the street

Despite schools and most workplaces having closed last week for the Christmas break, the streets of central Caracas have been full of supporters collecting, signing, singing, dancing, haranguing, arguing, graffiti-ing, and generally making their feelings known and opinions clear. Forget the lies in the mainstream press about repression of freedom of speech and opinion – this is a country where everyone has something to say or write, and no qualms about doing so, as the new Mayor's office testifies!

"Look at us," said one man as I was taking photos, "Do we look like we are scared? Where else do the people get to choose like we do? Everything is open now, our elections, our systems, everyone knows what is going on, not like before. We are getting rid of corruption, and all those thieving dogs. They are the only ones who are scared, because they know they can't get away with it any more."

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Opposition Mayor's office graffitied in Caracas

Last night's announcement showed the air of confidence in the streets was justified – the gates to the National Assembly were opened and hundreds of supporters poured in to hear the results and watch the Special Session of the National Assembly on huge screens in the grounds, as fireworks exploded above them.

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Signing for the Referendum

All that remains now is the referendum itself, proposed for the end of February. If the support shown for the amendment equals that for the referendum, it will be another shoo-in for Chávez – the most votes the opposition has managed to garner in any election or referendum since 1998 is less than 4.5 million. But you can guarantee they won't give up without a fight – expect another outpouring of effluent from the right-wing press both national and international, accusing the Venezuelan President of everything from being power-crazy, ignorant, out of touch, dictatorial and demented to being gay!

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Supporters jumping for joy in the National Assembly courtyard

Compare the media coverage, and style of governance, with that of a neighbouring country that recently made a similar amendment to its Constitution - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who like John Key wields his power by just pushing laws through parliament without any consultation with the people, has never been subjected to the daily doses of diatribe dished out to the Venezuelan President. Compare also the number of political prisoners, civilian deaths, and refugees fleeing each country for an even more telling comparison....

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Uh! Ah! La Enmienda Va!

The challenge for the PSUV will be not only to mobilise the electorate and get their two million abstainers into the booths in February to ensure the amendment passes, but also to neutralise the inevitable US-funded anti-Chávez propaganda campaign. The Government will also have its hands full, trying to keep Colombian paramilitary terrorists, with their murderous and intimidatory practices, out.

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Watching the results in the National Assembly courtyard


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