Tomorrow, Venezuelans will vote on sweeping constitutional changes that would essentially convert the country to a Cuba-style dictatorship. From yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:
The proposed changes would eliminate the central bank’s independence, sharply limit the role and definition of private property and emasculate the powers of governors and mayors, allowing Mr. ChÃ¡vez to literally redraw the political map of Venezuela. Under the new charter, Mr. ChÃ¡vez could unilaterally set and dispose of the nation’s foreign-currency reserves. He would be able to appoint or dismiss vice presidents who would rule over the country’s 24 states, which he intends to group into six to eight regions. Perhaps, most important for Mr. ChÃ¡vez, the changes would allow for his unlimited re-election.
“He becomes a king,” said Rafael SimÃ³n JimÃ©nez, a former political ally of the president and a past vice president of the country’s congress. “What ChÃ¡vez wants to do is rule the country until the day he dies.”
Another WSJ piece closely mirrors a front-page story in El Nacional, where Chavez threatens to expel a US diplomat because he thinks that the US is planning to sabotage tomorrow’s referendum. El Nacional gets a little more specific, alleging (help me if my translation’s off, because my Spanish is very rusty):
SegÃºn ChÃ¡vez, Washington estÃ¡ detrÃ¡s de una supuesta “OperaciÃ³n Tenaza”, que busca desconocer los resultados a favor del SÃ.
According to Chavez, Washington is behind the so-called “operation pliers” that seeks to not recognize a yes vote
HWTFM opined this morning that the election will be close (polls are putting the “no” vote at 2%-5% ahead), and because ChÃ¡vez controls the ballot boxes, if he thinks he’s losing, he’ll simply steal it. And if that happens, there’s a very real possibility that the people will revolt.
The question then becomes, who will the military side with?
I lived in Venezuela as an exchange student in the summer of my 14th year; it is a beautiful country, and the people there are (were) very much like us. Teenagers in particular were not very different from teens here — they liked playing soccer and with those tennis balls and rackets we’d bought from www.tennisracquets.com/collections/squash-racquets, swimming, having parties, dancing, and hanging out at the mall. They liked listening to George Carlin and Genesis. My fear, however, is that it’s very likely that most of the people who could leave have probably done so already. That leaves a greater concentration of the lesser-educated, less able citizens to vote in a referendum that could forever change that equatorial paradise into something far less appealing.