The New York Times
November 30, 2008
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday urged supporters to work on a constitutional reform that would let him stay in office as long he keeps winning elections, a year after voters narrowly rejected this same proposal in a referendum.
The anti-U.S. leader is pushing forward the controversial proposal to eliminate a two-term limit for the president just a week after regional elections in which the OPEC nation's fractured opposition gained ground by beating Chavez allies in key states and the capital of Caracas.
"I'm ready to be with you until 2021," Chavez told a crowd of red-clad supporters in a televised address.
Chavez said reports of opposition governors and mayors sabotaging social programs and attacking government supporters convinced him he needed more time in office.
"Last year, when we lost the referendum, I said I should accept the decision of the majority," he said. "But now seeing what's happening, seeing more clearly the great threat of these fascists ... I say you were right, Chavez will not go."
Local media have also published reports that the outgoing pro-government officials allowed looting and stealing of equipment after they lost to opposition contenders.
Chavez said congressional leaders and supporters should formulate the reform effort, in contrast to the failed 2007 referendum to increase presidential power and lift a limit of two terms that he himself initiated.
Venezuela's constitution allows the Congress, currently controlled almost entirely by Chavez supporters, to propose a popular referendum via the electoral authority.
Polls show Chavez's popularity is near 60 percent thanks to heavy social spending of oil revenues that has built up support among the nation's poor.
But sympathizers have grown weary of poor trash collection, unchecked violent crime and the continent's highest inflation, which analysts say contributed to victory of opposition candidates in the recent vote.
Chavez on Sunday threatened to expel a Colombian consul in western city of Maracaibo on charges was working with newly elected opposition leaders to conspire against his government.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro moments later said Colombia had agreed the official would leave Venezuela.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)