(By Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – In a “unanimous” decision, Venezuela’s National Assembly has given initial approval to constitutional changes being pushed by President Hugo Chavez that will, among other things, allow him to extend his tenure in office indefinitely.
The text of the proposed changes was then submitted to a parliamentary commission, which will present a report ahead of a second debate, the official ABN news agency reported.
The 167-seat National Assembly is held entirely by pro-Chavez parties; the main opposition parties boycotted 2005 elections, citing irregularities.
ABN quoted parliamentary president Cilia Flores as saying it should be possible to modify 33 of the constitution’s 350 articles in three months. The changes would have to be approved in a national referendum.
The changes, put forward by Chavez last week, seek to transform Venezuela into a socialist state. They include eliminating the current two-term limit for the president, ending the autonomy of the country’s central bank, extending the state’s power to expropriate property, and limiting the workday to six hours.
The populist leader, who was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2006, aims to unify Latin American countries and counter United States influence through his “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas,” currently supported by Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
Popular among many low-income Venezuelans because of social welfare spending programs, Chavez this year has moved to consolidate his grip on power by restricting independent media, nationalizing power and telecommunications companies, and ordering state-controlled oil company PdVSA to take majority control of crude oil projects, forcing out U.S. giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.
Chavez spoke earlier this month about a need to break away from the “classic” executive, legislative and judicial system and “go towards popular power,’ through an envisaged system of “communal councils.”
He also has introduced the concept of “socialist cities,” comprising communes which he says would be productive but not in the service of capitalism or consumerism. Construction work on the first such project began last month, north of Caracas.
Chavez has proposed the establishment of a new mega-political party that will amalgamate all parties that support his “socialist, Bolivarian” revolution. The new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) aims to be, in Chavez’s words, “the great political party of the 21st century.”
Chavez has made it clear that the proposed ending of term limits will apply only to the president, not to other levels of government. Responding to requests by some parties for governors and mayors also to be able to stand for indefinite re-election, he rejected the idea, saying it could lead to the emergence of “regional caudillos” (military strongmen).
A massive campaign to win public support for the constitutional changes has now begun. Pro-Chavez media report that the text of the proposed changes is being distributed to every household by a network of “promoters,” and that there are plans for “street parliaments” aimed at encouraging a “yes” vote in the referendum.
Venezuelans living abroad will be encouraged to participate, with activities to be carried out by diplomatic missions, parliamentary friendship groups and Venezuelan solidarity organizations.
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1. a) Name the capital of Venezuela.
b) List the countries that border Venezuela.
c) Who is the president of Venezuela?
2. Write the following words from the article next to their definitions:
-tenure (from paragraph 1)
-referendum (from para. 4)
-socialism (from para. 5)
-autonomy (from para. 5)
-expropriate (from para. 5)
-populist (from para. 6)
-consolidate (from para. 7)
-envisaged (from para. 8)
-communes (from para. 9)
-amalgamate (from para. 10)
a. _______________ the quality or state of being self-governing
b. _______________ to become, or cause something to become, stronger and more certain
c. _______________ a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people
d. _______________ a legislative act that is referred for final approval to a popular vote by the electorate
e. _______________ any community organized for the protection and promotion of local interests, and subordinate to the state
f. _______________ any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy
g. _______________ to join or unite to form a larger organization or group, or to make separate organizations do this
h. _______________ the right to remain permanently in a job
i. _______________ to have a mental picture of, especially in advance of realization
j. _______________ to transfer (the property of another) to one’s own possession
3. List the changes Hugo Chavez is making to the Venezuelan constitution.
4. a) What is Chavez’s aim for the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas?”
b) Name the countries that support this Alternative.
5. What actions has Mr. Chavez already taken in the past year to consolidate his power?
6. Why is President Chavez popular among many low-income Venezuelans?
7. List the three ideas for Venezuela that President Chavez has recently proposed. (from para. 8-10)
8. What reason does Mr. Chavez give for ending term limits only for the office of president?
9. Why is President Chavez attempting to win public support for his constitutional changes?
10. In paragraph #1, why do you think the reporter used quotation marks around the word unanimous?
For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have [ruled] since 1959. Hugo CHAVEZ, president since 1999, has promoted a controversial policy of “democratic socialism,” which purports to alleviate social ills while at the same time attacking globalization and undermining regional stability. (From the CIA World FactBook.)
For further background information on Venezuela, go to the CIA World FactBook.
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