August 16, 2007
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez proposed changes to the constitution that critics say are a way for him to expand his power.
President Hugo Chávez called for changes to Venezuela's constitution Wednesday night, delivering a key address pitching revisions that are expected to allow him to be reelected indefinitely.
Chávez, speaking to the National Assembly, said the changes affect ''less than 10 percent'' of the constitution but would bring Venezuela ''new horizons for the new era.'' Chávez, who is seeking to transform Venezuelan society along socialist lines, denied he wants lifelong power as opponents allege.
''They accuse me of making plans to be in power forever or to concentrate power. We know it isn't like that. It's power of the people,'' Chávez said. ``So many lies in the world. I doubt there is any country on this planet with a democracy more alive than the one we enjoy in Venezuela today.''
Critics accuse Chávez of seeking to remain as president for decades to come, like his close friend Fidel Castro in Cuba. They argue his main goal is to expand his power and ensure he will be able to run again in 2012.
Chávez's political allies firmly control the National Assembly, which is expected to approve the revisions within months. The plan then would have to be approved by citizens in a national referendum.
Chávez has previously stressed the need to do away with presidential term limits that currently prevent him from seeking reelection in 2012. But he began his speech discussing what he called a transition to ''a new society'' and other revisions, including territorial changes.
''There are 33 articles that, starting tomorrow, will begin to be read, analyzed, criticized,'' Chávez said, adding that with the speech ''a great debate'' begins. He made clear who he expects to oppose him, saying, ``We can defeat the forces of [U.S.] imperialism and the servile oligarchy.''
Before lawmakers, Chávez held up a small copy of the country's current constitution, dating to his first term in 1999, and called it one of the world's ''most advanced,'' but said he and members of a presidential commission have been ''working intensely'' on ways to improve it.
His opponents, meanwhile, attacked the plan.
''Chávez is seeking to reduce the territory held by the opposition and give his intention to remain in power a legal foundation,'' said Gerardo Blyde, an opposition leader and former lawmaker.
He said many other revisions are likely to be ''red capes,'' like those used by a bullfighter, ''to distract Venezuelans from his real objective'' to hold on to power indefinitely.