by Lee Sustar
November 30, 2007
VENEZUELANS WILL vote December 2 on constitutional reforms proposed by President Hugo Chávez and his supporters, capping weeks of sometimes-violent protests by right-wing opposition forces, a defection by a top Chávez political ally, and mass mobilizations by Chávez supporters.
LEE SUSTAR, recently returned from Venezuela, looks at the aims of Chávez’s proposals, the response of the opposition and the shape of Venezuelan politics today.
FOR THE U.S. mainstream media, Venezuela’s vote on constitutional reforms December 2 is simply the latest power grab in authoritarian President Hugo Chávez’s bid to crush dissent, make himself president for life and impose a state-controlled economy.
The view from the streets of the Caracas barrio of 23 de Enero, however, is very different.
A densely populated, impoverished neighborhood seldom visited by U.S. reporters, it is famous for its role in mobilizing in January 1958 to overthrow a Venezuelan military dictator on the date that gave the barrio its name.
These days, it is home to an active local branch, or battalion, of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, according to its Spanish initials). On a rainy mid-November evening, activists gathered to distribute copies of the proposed reform by going door to door.
Of the 30 or so people who turned out–all but four of them women–just two had prior political experience in Chávez’s original political party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). Only one–Rosaida Hernández–is an experienced politico, having served as a functionary of the Fifth Republic Movement and won election to Caracas’ municipal council.
More typical was Iraima Díaz, a neighborhood resident in her 30s who had long supported Chávez and benefited from his government’s social programs, but hadn’t been politically active. “I got involved to solve the problems of my community,” she said.
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