Miami Herald Wire Services
August 17, 2007
If President Hugo Chávez gets his new constitution he will be allowed to run for office as many times as he wants for mandates that will last seven years instead of six and he will have access to billions of dollars from the Central Bank coffers.
These are some of the highlights of the proposed sweeping constitutional changes that the leftist president laid out to the National Assembly on Wednesday.
''If someone says this is a project to entrench oneself in power. No, it's only a possibility, a possibility that depends on many variables,'' Chávez said.
Critics accuse Chávez of seeking to remain as president for decades to come, like his close friend Fidel Castro in Cuba.
The changes will not face a big challenge in the National Assembly, which is firmly controlled by government allies. But the plan would still have to be approved by citizens in a national referendum.
If passed, this will be Chávez's most radical step yet in his drive to transform Venezuela along his vision of socialism.
Chávez not only called for ending the autonomy of Venezuela's Central Bank, which would give him access to billions of dollars of foreign reserves, but he also proposed increasing the government's power to expropriate private property before getting a court's approval.
''Chavez is seeking to reduce the territory held by the opposition and give his inten
ion to remain in power a legal foundation,'' Gerardo Blyde, an opposition leader and former lawmaker, told the Associated Press.
Chávez's proposals also included creating new types of property that would be managed by cooperatives, reducing the workday to six hours and creating ''a popular militia'' that would form part of the military.
The leftist leader, who constantly warns that the United States may someday invade Venezuela, already has begun training civilian militias at the neighborhood level. Government opponents say he is trying creating the means to suppress dissent and defend his presidency at all costs.