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08CARACAS1721 2008-12-16 13:24:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

CHAVEZ PERSONALIZING AMENDMENT PROPOSAL

Tags:   PGOV VE KDEM 
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1. (C) Summary: Chavez initiated the drive to collect
signatures December 11 in support of a constitutional
amendment to allow for indefinite reelection, and continues
to reiterate that the referendum must be held by February.
He has framed the amendment as a minor legal tweak and
personalized its outcome, inferring that the "revolution" --
and its accompanying social programs -- can only continue
with Chavez at the helm. The opposition has mobilized to
counter the referendum, but some members may be overstating
its ability to once against triumph at the polls. End
Summary.



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CHAVEZ AT THE CAMPAIGN FOREFRONT


--------------------------





2. (C) Chavez kicked off the campaign drive to collect
signatures December 11 by being the first to sign in Bolivar
Plaza in downtown Caracas before the gathered media. The
drive is divided into two stages, the first to end December
18 and the second beginning after the Christmas holidays on
January 5. National Assembly (AN) president Cilia Flores
announced that the AN would begin its first discussion on the
amendment December 18, and other PSUV deputies said the
second and final discussion would be held on January 5. The
National Electoral Council (CNE) will then have at least
thirty days to prepare for the balloting. A CNE staffer told
polassistant that the CNE does not expect to be ready until
March 2009 and that the CNE is tasked with opening more
polling stations.



3. (SBU) Aristobulo Isturiz, coordinator of the
Mobilization Pro-Amendment Command, has pledged that
supporters hope to collect over seven million signatures --
more than the total number of purported PSUV members. Chavez
was reelected in 2006 with 7.3 million votes, and the PSUV
claims to have 5.7 million members on its rolls. Libertador
mayor Jorge Rodriguez, Chavez's campaign manager, pledged
that state funds would not be used during the process and
that Chavistas would be offering 10 percent of their income
to the amendment cause. There are reports, however, that
individuals seeking to do business with some government
offices are being asked to sign the petition before any
service can be rendered.



4. (SBU) Chavez has been using mandatory "cadena"
broadcasting to dominate the TV and radio waves nearly every
night for several hours at a time since first announcing his
amendment proposal. He continues to argue that he only wants
to change "a few little words" of the constitution and that
he is, reluctantly, the only leader able to guarantee the
continuity of the "Bolivarian project." Chavez argued
December 14 during an interview on Jose Vicente Rangel's
Sunday TV program, "Today," that he is the same leader as he
was ten years ago, fighting against the entrenched elite
minority. Furthermore, to shepherd along the revolution, he
had to remain at its forefront beyond 2012, the end of his
current term.



5. (SBU) Chavez claims that the opposition has "mistakenly
interpreted" Simon Bolivar's warnings of the dangers of the
same individual perpetuating himself in power -- commonly
used as an anti-amendment slogan. Chavez contended that "in
Venezuela, if someone has become used to obedience (to the
same leader), it is Hugo Chavez... I am here obeying the
mandate of the people." He has reiterated that the
referendum on the amendment must be held by February, and
that Chavistas must run a "perfect" campaign to achieve this.
The President ordered new Minister of Information and
Communication Jesse Chacon to prepare a radio program to
increase his access to Venezuelans and explain his amendment
proposal. From Guarico State, Chavez announced December 10
that in his next term, starting in 2013, he would resubmit
the rest of the reforms that were rejected in December 2007's
referendum.



--------------------------


OPPOSITION PUSHES BACK


--------------------------





6. (C) Representatives from Primero Justicia (PJ) appealed
to the Supreme Court (TSJ) December 10 asking that it clarify
whether Chavez's proposal is, in fact, an amendment or a new
constitutional reform. PJ also asked that the TSJ prohibit

CARACAS 00001721 002.2 OF 002


the process from moving forward in the National Assembly
until the court has made a final ruling. A UNT activist in
Caracas told poloff December 8 that the party did not have
concrete plans on how to counter Chavez's proposal, but waved
away suggestions that the referendum might pass, citing the
failure of the December 2007 reform referendum as evidence.



7. (SBU) Student groups have also been active, leading
street demonstrations in Caracas under the slogan "you too
can be president," giving a rationale against indefinite
reelection. Students at the national catholic university are
distributing pamphlets and posters that ask if the population
wants "indefinite hunger", "indefinite unemployment" and
"indefinite corruption." Popular former Minister of Defense
Raul Baduel criticized the amendment as "vulgar and abusive"
and decried Chavez's efforts to keep Venezuela in a state of
"permanent conflict."



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





8. (C) Chavez is once again framing the proposed referendum
as a plebiscite on him, dominating the air waves with
continual talk about the dangers of a Bolivarian revolution
-- or Venezuela -- without him. The decision to collect
signatures in addition to passage through the AN will provide
Chavez with a reverse Tascon list of sorts, giving him an
updated list of the party faithful and ready support to the
argument that this is a popular and "democratic" proposal. It
appears that Chavez and his supporters are counting on
opposition overconfidence and the usual lull in activities
during the holidays to allow them to gain enough momentum to
pass the proposal. End Comment.
CAULFIELD