The Boston Globe
November 02, 2007
CARACAS (Reuters) - Congress passed President Hugo Chavez's proposal to scrap presidential term limits on Friday in a package of constitutional changes that Venezuelans are likely to approve in a December referendum.
Polls show many Venezuelans reject the moves to centralize presidential power, but welcome sweeteners the socialist leader has included, such as reducing the work day to six hours and giving social security to unregistered taxi drivers.
The opposition, the Roman Catholic Church, university students and rights groups have denounced the scores of changes to the constitution as an authoritarian power grab and protests against the proposal have turned violent.
Wall St. worries the reforms will further chill investment, especially after Chavez decreed a raft of nationalizations earlier this year with the vow of making the major oil exporter a socialist state.
"Today is a black page in the history of this country," said legislator Ismael Garcia, whose party has broken with Chavez over the reforms.
The package also strips the central bank of its autonomy, gives Chavez control over international reserves, empowers authorities to detain citizens without charge and opens the way to censoring the media in so-called political emergencies.
With only a month for a national debate on the range of complex measures, the anti-U.S. president should easily win a vote that will be largely a reflection of his popularity among the majority poor, although turnout could be low, pollsters say.