CHAVEZ PUSHES A STEP CLOSER TO PRESIDENT FOR LIFE

Identifier: 
06CARACAS510

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 000510

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2016
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, VE
SUBJECT: CHAVEZ PUSHES A STEP CLOSER TO PRESIDENT FOR LIFE

REF: CARACAS 0298

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBERT R. DOWNES FOR 1.4 (D)

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Summary
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1. (C) During his weekly Alo Presidente television show
President Chavez warned that if the opposition decided not to
participate in the December 3 presidential election, he would
convoke a referendum on whether he should run for re-election
in 2013. If approved, Chavez could overturn the
constitutional ban on multiple re-election. The National
Assembly, not surprisingly, supports the idea. Most
opposition parties have rejected Chavez' intimidation and
have called on him to improve electoral transparency. Accion
Democratica Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup is using the
statement to justify his party's inclination to boycott the
presidential elections. Chavez' threat is the latest in a
series of statements, most recently floated February 2 (ref
a), declaring his intention to stay in office beyond the
constitutionally-mandated two terms. It is probably only a
matter of time before constitutional change to remove the
term limitation, spurred either by him or the 100 percent
Chavista legislature, is initiated. Any constitutional
changes require passage of a national referendum to be
effective. End Summary.

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Chavez Threatens to Seek Multiple Re-election
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2. (SBU) During his weekly Alo Presidente program February
19, President Chavez said that if the opposition did not
participate in the December 3 presidential election, he would
issue a decree calling for a consultative referendum on
whether he should be allowed to run in 2013. If approved,
that step would allow him to overturn the constitutional ban
on multiple re-election. Chavez claimed the USG was trying
to pull an "American" on him, which he described as trying to
create support for an opposition candidate, then have that
candidate withdraw at the last minute alleging unfair
electoral conditions, and seek international support to
delegitimize Chavez' victory. The referendum, he claimed,
would give the opposition a lesson in true politics, and
combat their plan to encourage voter abstention. While he
initially referred to a referendum limited to seeking a third
term in 2013, he later said that if the opposition did not
have a candidate in 2006, they probably will not have one in
2012, 2018, nor 2024, thus implying he would try to stay in
power until 2031.

3. (SBU) In addition to the threat, which he claimed was
only an idea for now, Chavez directed a challenge to a
specific opposition candidate (which he refused to name) to
launch his candidacy. Chavez urged the challenger not to
think too much or wait for too many people to beg him to run.
He said he was waiting for him and hoped he would stay in
the race until the end. He also chided the opposition for
complaining about unfair electoral conditions equating their
current situation with his own experience in 1998 and, most
recently, Evo Morales' in Bolivia. (Note: By law, campaigns
are not supposed to begin for another four months and the
President has been criticized for undertaking purely
electoral actions well in advance of that date.)

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National Assembly Supports Move
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4. (SBU) Not surprisingly, members of the all-Chavista
National Assembly (AN) applauded the idea. When asked about
the questionable legality of Chavez seeking constitutional
reform through a non-binding consultative referendum, second
AN Vice President Robert Hernandez said the move was
"democratic" and perfectly legal. Ruling Fifth Republic
Movement (MVR) party AN deputy William Lara, speaking as head
of the MVR's executive committee, said the MVR supported the
idea. Lara described the idea as a legitimate way to goad
the opposition into participating in a democratic process
instead of seeking to destabilize the country by promoting
abstention and preventing opponents from running in the
election.

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Attorney General Says Not So Fast
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5. (SBU) Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez downplayed the
threat as bravado typical of people from the Venezuelan
plains ("llaneros") and dismissed it as only a hypothetical
situation. In any event, he explained that it would take
more than a decree to change the constitutional ban on
re-election. Rodriguez explained that according to article
342 of the Constitution, the President cannot propose an
amendment by decree.

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Opposition Rejects Intimidation
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6. (SBU) Venezuela's traditional opposition parties have
rejected Chavez' attempt to intimidate them and attributed
the threat to Chavez' fear of low voter turn out. Movement
Toward Socialism Secretary General Leopoldo Puchi called the
threat and Chavez' branding of the opposition as tools of
Washington "unacceptable" and an attempt to "manipulate
public opinion." Puchi suggested that if Chavez really wants
the opposition to participate in the election, he will allow
an impartial National Electoral Council (CNE) that could
restore voter confidence to be named. Accion Democratica
Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup's response, on the other

SIPDIS
hand, suggested resignation to Chavez's increasingly
authoritarian bent. Allup, whose party is playing toward
abstentionists in an attempt to re-build its ranks, said the
threat only proved that the currently skewed electoral
conditions were unlikely to improve, and thus justified
boycotting the election.

7. (SBU) Meanwhile, Primera Justicia (PJ), whose President
Julio Borges is a declared presidential candidate, said
Chavez was "mocking" the country as he knows that
constitutional reform cannot occur by consultative
referendum. The PJ spokesman also said the statement showed
Chavez was clearly concerned about the possibility of high
abstention December 3. Teodoro Petkoff, the undeclared
candidate to which Chavez was most likely referring, said on
February 22 that he would not rise to Chavez' bait and would
decide, in his own time, if and when to launch his candidacy.
Petkoff, a moderate leftist who is one of the leading
potential opposition candidates, thought he would be the best

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choice to face off against Chavez in the election, but he
admitted being reticent about running because of the serious
lack of voter confidence in the electoral system.

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Can he do it?
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8. (SBU) According to article 342 of the Constitution, the
President can propose constitutional changes to the National
Assembly, which within two years must hold three debates and
a vote on the proposal. If approved by a two-thirds
majority, the proposal must be submitted to a popular
referendum within 30 days of the AN vote. If more people
vote for the proposal than against it, the Constitution is
changed. Although Chavez implied he would consider issuing
the decree if, by October or November, it appeared that the
opposition would not participate in the election, if he
submitted the proposal earlier, the referendum could occur by
December 3. Likewise, by law, the National Assembly could
propose and approve the changes in time for the presidential
election.

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Comment
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9. (C) Chavez has long declared his intention to stay in
office beyond the constitutionally-mandated limit of two
terms and it is only a matter of time before constitutional
change, spurred either by him or the 100 percent Chavista
legislature, is pushed by the BRV. The main question is
whether they will move forward this year or wait until after
the election. Chavez often floats ideas before acting on
them. His threat is the latest in a series of statements,
most recently floated February 2 (ref a), to stay in power
until at least 2021 to celebrate 50 years of leading his
Bolivarian revolution (dating from his entry into the
military academy), and possibly until 2031. The statement
also signals an underlying concern about abstention, too.
Chavez has set a goal for himself to be re-elected with 10
million votes and he may think that putting the revolution's
long-term future on the line may encourage more supporters to
turn out December 3, thus increasing the chances of him
reaching a virtually impossible goal; at least virtually
impossible without electoral manipulation.

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