November 30, 2008
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez asked supporters to propose a constitutional reform that would allow him to seek indefinite re-election and govern through 2019, giving him more time to build a socialist economy in Venezuela.
''We are going to begin the national debate,'' the former paratroops commander told a crowd of red-clad government supporters at a rally in Caracas on Sunday.
Chávez, who was first elected in 1998, is barred from running again when his term as president expires in 2013.
Venezuelan voters last year rejected a sweeping package of constitutional changes that would have ended presidential term limits, with many of Chávez's opponents warning that he intends to be president for life.
Any new attempt at a reform, which must be approved in a nationwide referendum, would open a new front for tensions between government-backers and their political rivals.
Chávez also threatened Sunday to expel Colombia's top diplomat in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city, after he privately welcomed opposition victories in five key races during last week's gubernatorial and municipal elections.
In a private telephone conversation apparently recorded by Venezuelan intelligence agents, Carlos Galvis called the opposition's gains ''very good news.'' The recording was then broadcast on state television by talk show host Alberto Noria.
Chávez urged Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to recall Galvis. ''If not, I'll expel him,'' he warned.
Months of sniping between Caracas and Bogota threatened trade and unleashed a diplomatic crisis earlier this year, when Colombian officials accused Venezuela's government of supporting leftist Colombian guerrillas. But ties between the United States' top critic and top ally had improved in recent months.