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Monday, July 23, 2007

Hugo Chavez Moves to Extend Presidential Term Limit

History hath triumphed over time, which beside it nothing but eternity hath triumphed over." -Sir Walter Raleigh.

HISTORY IN THE NEWS: DEVOTED TO THE DEEP ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY EVENTS AROUND THE WORLD.

BULLETIN. Venezuela's President Chavez seeks to extend presidential term limits. And it's not for the first time in Venezuela's history.

IN THE NEWS TODAY: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez submits to the legislature a bill that would allow him to be re-elected for office an unlimited number of times, contrary to the limit of two terms currently allowed by the constitution. With committed support from the entire national legislature, he should get his way, clearing the path for a nationalization campaign that has already added to state control over energy and telecommunications. He has given reassurances, however, that the new law will only apply to the presidency and not to governors and mayors as some of his allies would like.

LOOKING BACK: In 1870 Venezuela's Guzman Blanco seized power at the head of the army. Like Chavez (who got himself voted eighteen months' rule by decree only last January), Guzman used rule by decree to make reforms. He repressed the church and reformed communications, education and finances. And like Chavez, Guzman also challenged a provision in the constitution limiting the presidential term to two years. But Guzman's way was slightly different from that of Chaves: Guzman repeatedly appointed a successor who would then hand the power back to him. That way, he stayed in power for eighteen years, until 1888.

And there was another: in 1948 General Marcos Perez Jiminez overthrew President Gallegos in a military coup, installing a repressive right-wing junta and police state. In 1958, just before he was overthrown by a group of liberal officers, Perez asked for a plebiscite to extend his term in office, again contrary to the constitution.

FROM PAST INTO PRESENT: One could argue that from the very foundation of Venezuela, th the extension of term limits is nothing more than a practical measure in a country badly in need of reform. But the fact is, that argument can be made by both left and right. Surely the desire for a presidential regime instead of a mere term or two, is also characteristic of the Caudillo tradition of personal rule.


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