November 15, 2007
President Hugo Chávez's government condemned a leading Venezuelan business group on Wednesday for urging voters to oppose the president's constitutional reforms ``by all legal means.''
Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas said the Fedecamaras business chamber appeared to be calling for resistance beyond opposing the reforms at the ballot box in a Dec. 2 referendum.
Fedecamaras, made up of hundreds of thousands of business members, has traditionally been anti-Chávez and is strongly against reforms that would let him run for reelection indefinitely. The chamber called the proposed changes ''illicit, invalid'' in a statement Tuesday, urging Venezuelans to prevent their passage ``by all legal means possible.''
Cabezas accused the group of laying the groundwork to question any Chávez victory in the vote, saying ``they have an attitude of subversive rebellion.''
Chávez has repeatedly warned that his enemies could try to topple him by stirring unrest around the Dec. 2 vote, though he has not singled out Fedecamaras.
Cabezas accused the group of playing a key role in a short-lived 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chávez. The interim leader who briefly took Chávez's place was Pedro Carmona, a businessman who then headed Fedecamaras.
Countering recent anti-government protests, thousands of pro-Chávez students and university employees marched through Caracas on Wednesday, waving flags and blowing whistles as they urged voters to back the changes. Chávez, meanwhile, campaigned by waving to crowds atop a truck in eastern Venezuela.
The reforms would give Chávez control over the Central Bank, create new types of collective property and allow authorities to detain citizens without charge during a state of emergency. Among 69 proposed amendments, they would also abolish presidential term limits, allowing Chávez to run again in 2012.
Gladis Gonzalez, a 50-year-old law student who joined the march in Caracas, said the reforms are key to Venezuela's transition to socialism. ''We're consolidating this revolutionary process,'' she said.
Violence has broken out at other recent protests, but Wednesday's march ended peacefully at the Supreme Court, where students handed over a document backing the reforms and condemning violence.