Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional (AN) completed amendments to the national Constitution in October and sent them to the country's top electoral authority to hold a Dec. 2 referendum. President Hugo Chavez has been heavily promoting the amendments to 69 of the Constitution's 350 articles, amendments that make a number of economic and political changes. International press outlets focused most closely on the elimination of term limits for the president, although the reforms also included significant changes to economic and labor laws. A national opposition movement, bringing together a student movement, members of a party once allied to Chavez, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, and others emerged to call for a "no" vote on the referendum. Large-scale demonstrations for and against the reforms resulted in multiple injuries.
Reforms: social security, labor, presidential terms
Voters will decide whether to nationalize natural-gas fields, guarantee gay rights, and cut the workday to six hours, among other proposals. The reforms would create a massive fund for social security for informal-sector workers and reduce the length of the workweek from 40 hours to 36 hours. Reports differed on whether this would entail shorter workdays or half-days on Fridays. The voting age would be reduced from 18 to 16.
The original package of reforms proposed by Chavez amended 33 articles, while the AN added another 36, totaling 69 modified amendments. The reforms are the latest in a series of constitutional reforms Chavez has sought, and to date he has been successful (see NotiSur, 1999-11-19, 1999-12-24, 2000-11-10, 2001-02-09 and 2007-08-31).
The proposed revisions would do away with presidential term limits, extend terms from six to seven years, let Chavez appoint regional vice presidents, and eliminate central bank (Banco Central de Venezuela, BCV) authority and autonomy.
Critics say Chavez would also have the power to shut down Venezuelan newspapers, television, and radio stations by declaring a state of emergency, and the government could detain citizens without charges during such a period.
The reform package includes the creation of "socialist" factories under the control of "communes" as a way of developing a new form of socialist economy. "These are the means for the people to participate and have a central role in the direct practice of their sovereignty and for the construction of socialism," said Chavez upon presenting his reform proposal. "And for the democratic management by the workers of any …