Democracy wins in Venezuelan referendum; Chavez promises `socialist democracy'

Hugo Chavez addresses thousands of Venezuelans from the `Balcony of the People' following the referendum victory.

[Click HERE for more coverage of the referendum campaign.]

A statement from the Australia–Venezuela Solidarity Network

February 17, 2009 -- On Sunday, February 15, Venezuelans voted in a referendum to change the country’s constitution to allow elected officials to re-stand for election without restriction. Previously, Venezuela’s constitution allowed elected officials, including the president, to stand for only two terms.

With 94.2% of the votes counted, the National Electoral Council announced that the “Yes” vote had won with 6,003,584 votes (54.36%). The “No” vote received 5,040,082 votes (45.63%). Dozens of election observers from international bodies such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States verified that the referendum was free and fair.

The constitutional change allows Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias to stand for re-election in 2012. At a media conference soon after the results were released, the US-backed right-wing opposition – which had run a campaign of lies, intimidation and violence in the lead-up to the vote - reluctantly accepted the outcome.

The victory of the “Yes” vote bolsters support for the newly formed United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which played a central role in the “Yes” campaign, and for measures towards establishing Venezuelan sovereignty and social justice. This assertion of the right of Venezuelans to elect whoever they choose to govern the country is also an assertion of the majority of Venezuelans’ desire for the Bolivarian revolution, currently symbolised and led by Chavez, to continue.

Soon after the results where announced, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans gathered in the streets of central Caracas and outside the “Balcony of the People” at the Miraflores Presidential Palace to hear Chavez speak and join the celebrations.

“This victory belongs to all the Latin American peoples, it is our America. It is a really historic victory”, Chavez declared, adding that he had received a message from Cuba's former president Fidel Castro saying that the vote “is a victory impossible to measure due to its magnitude”.

Chavez told the people, “Here I stand firm. Send me the people, as I shall obey them. I am a soldier of the people, you are my bosses.” He added: “We must dedicate ourselves to consolidating what we have achieved in the past 10 years of revolution... [this] will include revision, rectification, adjusting and strengthening the gains of the Venezuelan people... We need to strengthen the social missions and soon we will be in a better situation from 2010 to open up new horizons and new spaces.”

Chavez emphasised that the people must lead in this process: “This democracy must be more and more revolutionary, authentic, participative and popular.”

The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network congratulates the people and government of Venezuela on this victory for democracy, and reaffirms our solidarity with the struggles for sovereignty, justice and socialism of the 21st century that the referendum result has mandated.

* * *

Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network
PO Box 5421 CC, Melbourne 3001

Join the next Australian solidarity brigade to Venezuela!
April 15 - April 25, 2009. Find out more HERE.

Chávez promises continuation of project to create socialist democracy in Venezuela

By Tamara Pearson

Mérida, February 16, 2009 -- -- After it was officially announced that the “yes” vote had won the constitutional amendment with 54.4% of the vote, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez delivered a speech from the balcony of the Miraflores Presidential Palace, his two daughters beside him. He spent most of the speech talking about what problems need to be struggled against and what needs to be done next.

Celebrating, Chavez said, “Truth has won against lies, and the dignity of the people against those who disown the homeland … those who try to return Venezuela to … the Fourth Republic, have failed today and will always fail.”

However, he included the opposition in the victory, saying the day was historical, as for the first time the people were consulted about such an issue. “It’s a victory for Venezuela and they are part of Venezuela.”

Chavez also saw the result as a boost for the socialist project and invited the people to strengthen their effort towards the construction of true socialism.

“This path doesn’t have any other name, this path is called socialism, I want to ratify my commitment to socialism and I want to invite everyone to strengthen the march towards the construction of … socialist democracy.”

The president encouraged supporters to again go on a push with the “3R” campaign of “revision, rectification, and revolutionary re-launch.” Chavez announced 2008 to be a year of the 3Rs at the start of last year. He had emphasised the need to review and re-evaluate everything in order to improve general administration and day-to-day governing.

“Government, party and people, I’d like us to re-take, with all our strength, in all areas of the government, that policy of the 3Rs…from this exact moment.”

He said he thought such a policy would enable the government to achieve, in the upcoming “four years that remain, of this constitutional period of the government, the highest amount of efficiency in public management and the push for the National Simon Bolivar Project.”

The National Simon Bolivar Project is the government’s overall plan for the rest of this presidential term, which lasts until early 2013.

He also committed himself and the government to a “battle that needs to be done with more intensity and effort and above all with more results that combat the insecurity in the streets of the people, the barrios, the suburbs, in the cities.”

He highlighted other issues against which the struggle needs to be intensified, “the struggle against corruption and its vile ways, the struggle against insecurity, the struggle against wastefulness, the struggle against bureaucracy and inefficiency.”

“I want us to dedicate ourselves completely in the struggle against all these problems that are so harmful to the health of the people, to the health of the government and to the health of the republic.”

Chavez said the republic needs truly new institutions, with truly new men and women, and that it was also necessary to strengthen the five branches of the state: the executive branch, the legislative branch, judicial branch, citizen (or prosecutorial) branch, and electoral branch.

He then congratulated the people for their participation in the campaign and said it was “a big effort and a big victory.”

“Unless god stipulates something else, unless the people stipulate something else, this soldier will be a candidate for the presidency of the Republic for 2013-2019,” he said. Chavez declared his life at the service of the people, saying, “On this road now, from today, we’ll continue … constructing the homeland. On this road I devote myself and I will be consumed in this for the rest of what remains of my life, I swear it, I promise it, in front of the people and in front of my children and grandchildren.”

However, he also suggested that the following week be a “week of love”, that everyone enjoy it with happiness and moderation, as a deserved rest after all the political activity. It will be a week free of political themes, and to make up for the Day of Love (Valentine’s Day) on February 14, which most would have spent in electoral campaign.

Chavez announced from the balcony that the first message he had received was from Fidel Castro, revolutionary leader of Cuba, just 10 minutes after the official results were broadcast. “Dear Hugo, congratulations to you and your people for a victory that for its magnitude is impossible to measure,” Fidel had written.

Later, Evo Morales, president of Bolivia and the government of Spain also congratulated Chavez for the results.

Outside the presidential palace, along Avenue Urdenata, and filling up multiple other roads across Caracas, on hearing the news, people came out into the streets to listen to Chavez and to celebrate.

Likewise, around the country in main and local plazas, people waved red flags, danced, played drums, chanted political slogans and set off fireworks. Spontaneous motorcades of honking cars and motorbikes paraded through the streets.

[Tamara Pearson is an Australia-Venezeula Solidarity Network activist resident in Venezuela. She maintains  the blog, A Gringa Diary.]