Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez–who called George Bush the devil and noted that the day after the American President addressed the United Nations “it smells of sulfur still today”–has suffered a stunning defeat. Yesterday Venezuelans voted to reject a referendum that would overhaul the constitution and expedite Chavez’s plan to transform Venezuela into a socialist regime. Under Chavez’s leadership, the country has turned away from the United States, once a staunch ally.
The referendum Venezuelans voted down contained 69 proposed changes to the constitution. Such changes called for eliminating presidential term limits, increasing the authority of the President, and designating more property as communal. Not surprisingly, Chavez enjoyed large support from poorer communities, though the New York Times reports that some voting centers in lower income areas had no lines. According to the Times, “’I’m impressed by the lack of voters,’ said Ninoska González, 37, who sells cigarettes on the street. ‘This was full last year.’”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times notes that students were essential to Chavez’s opposition. The Venezuelan leader regards this opposition as “‘daddy’s little children,’ ‘fascists,’ and ‘the children of the rich,’ who he says are taking orders from the U.S. government.”
This moment is a good one for U.S.-Venezuelan relations, though it’s not exactly time to celebrate. As indicated by Chavez’s olfactory hallucination around our President, reason seems not to hamper the Venezuelan leader. One can only speculate as to what forms his response to today’s defeat will take.