Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hugo Chavez pushing his limits

In the United States, we view term limits as a good government reform that empowers citizens relative to public officials. To view term limits so casually is a luxury of our stable democracy.

In many other parts of the world, instability and authoritarian ideologies raise the stakes for such reforms. In shaky democracies like Venezuela, term limits are one of the last safeguards against tyranny.

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been successfully consolidating power through nationalization of businesses, closing down opposition media, sharing his oil money with supporters and fixing elections. Now, for the second time in three years, Chavez is trying to make his exalted position permanent by abolishing presidential term limits. Fortunately, to do so requires a popular vote and Chavez isn't yet secure enough in his power to simply strike down the term limits by decree. However, he will try to fiddle with the election results. The election will likely be held in March.

In response, people have taken to the streets. In the words of the Associated Press caption to the Jan. 14 photo above, "Venezuelan riot police fired rubber bullets against university students in Caracas Wednesday, after thousands demonstrated against a proposed referendum to end term limits on elected offices. Student leaders warn of a dictatorship if President Hugo Chavez engineers continuous re-elections."