Let's be careful not to accept the propaganda that the elimination of term limits makes a totalitarian regime. Let's also remember that it was only in 1951 that the United States voted FOR term limits (link) -- until then, U.S. Presidents could be elected an infinite number of times. U.S. President Grant considered running for a third term in 1880, Teddy Roosevelt ran for a third term, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was ELECTED to FOUR terms as U.S. President. So as long as Chavez is fairly ELECTED president over and over again, I don't really care how long he stays president. It's up to the people of Venezuela to decide.
(Washington Post) Chávez Wins Removal of Term Limits: Fourteen months after his first attempt failed, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez won a referendum Sunday to eliminate term limits, paving the way for him to rule far into the 21st century to carry out his socialist transformation of this oil-rich country.
With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, the National Electoral Council announced Sunday night that the government had won handily, garnering more than 6 million votes, or 54.3 percent of the vote. Now in the third year of a six-year term, Chávez, 54, can run for office in 2012 and beyond, if he continues winning elections.
Fireworks went off across Caracas at news of the result, and supporters of the president flowed into the street to celebrate, blowing whistles and waving flags. Flanked by his top deputies and his grandchildren, Chávez addressed a crowd from a balcony at the Miraflores presidential palace.
"I asked you not to fail me, and that I would not fail you," Chávez said. "I knew that you would not fail me. I ratify to you that I will not fail you, the people of Venezuela, the hopes of the people."
He all but promised that he would campaign to be Venezuela's president when his current four-year term ends. What Chávez has been calling the "third cycle of the Bolivarian revolution" had its beginnings when he and other army officers plotted the overthrow of then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. In 1992, he led a failed coup against Pérez. Chávez was jailed, but the assault -- and his words to the country in a brief televised interview -- brought him fame, and in 1998 he won the presidency by a landslide in an election that shattered Venezuela's long-ruling traditional parties.
"With this victory, we begin the third cycle of the Bolivarian revolution," he said Sunday night. "This soldier is a pre-candidate for the presidency of the republic" in the 2012 election.
In December 2007, in Chávez's first electoral defeat, voters rejected a broad constitutional amendment that would have expanded the president's powers. The cornerstone of that proposed change was a provision that would have eliminated term limits.
But Chávez was not daunted by that loss, and soon promised a way to reform the constitution so he could run once more when his second six-year term ends. He had to stage the referendum quickly, while his popularity remained high. Although polls showed a majority of Venezuelans supporting him, officials feared that the plummeting price of oil, coupled with serious problems like runaway crime, could chip at that backing.
Indeed, as he has done in the past, the president characterized the vote as a plebiscite on his rule.
Voters like Roberto Gonzalez, 19, a university student, agreed, saying Chávez needed to be allowed to extend his presidency if Venezuela were to be completely transformed. "I think it is very important he be permitted to run for a new term in 2012 to continue with the revolution that we are building in this country," he said.
The victory was a hard blow for the opposition, which failed to gain traction against Chávez even though its leaders hammered away at issues like the country's high murder rate and its serious economic problems. Opposition leaders quickly recognized the government's victory, while acknowledging the need to better articulate an alternative to the Chávez model.
"The struggle today is not between the government and the opposition," said Ismael García, an opposition lawmaker. "We have to plant, from today on, that in this country there is a different path."
Through 10 tumultuous years in office, Chávez has used Venezuela's oil wealth to launch myriad social programs -- from literacy classes and primary health-care programs to subsidized food markets -- that have helped millions. Indeed, government figures show that poverty has been cut in half -- and many poor Venezuelans praise Chávez for changing their lives.
The president, though, has also amassed overwhelming control over virtually every government institution. He has purged the Supreme Court of opponents, and all but a dozen of his allies hold seats in the National Assembly.
The outcome of Sunday's referendum was being closely watched outside the country as well.
With the price of oil rising steadily during much of his presidency, Chávez has supplied cut-rate oil to Caribbean nations, purchased hundreds of millions of dollars in Argentine debt and provided social aid of all kinds to poorer nations such as Bolivia. That, along with his verbal attacks against the United States, has made him one of Latin America's most important leaders, and perhaps the region's most visible.
The country that had the most riding on Chávez's victory is Cuba, which found in him a steady, loyal benefactor to replace the old Soviet Union. Venezuela provides 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil to Cuba daily, an important economic crutch for a Communist country with a long-stagnant economy.
"Our future is inseparable," Fidel Castro, who led Cuba until 2006, said in his regular column, reproduced in Cuba's state press.
"There is no alternative but victory," wrote Castro, who took power in 1959 and has been a mentor and friend to Chávez. "The destiny of the people of 'Our America' depends very much on this victory, and it will be an event that will influence the rest of the planet."
The vote was also being watched closely by the populist governments of a handful of small, poor countries that have forged close ties with Chávez: Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras and the island of Dominica. All of them, but particularly Bolivia, receive assistance or subsidized aid from Caracas. Even Colombia, a close ally of Washington that is politically at odds with Venezuela, had been studying events here.
The Obama administration also monitored the results.
Chávez thrived, winning followers worldwide by verbally assailing the Bush administration. Though Chávez recently said he felt Obama had the same "stench" as President Bush -- back in 2006, Chávez had called Bush the devil at the United Nations and said he smelled of sulfur -- in recent days he has expressed a willingness to patch up relations with Washington. The United States has worried about Chávez's new ties to countries such as Iran, which says that Israel should be erased from the map, and Obama recently raised concerns about the Venezuelan leader.
But those most discouraged by Chávez's win were the Venezuelans who believe he is taking the country on a dangerous path of authoritarianism. Though disorganized and lacking a single leader, the opposition had won the 2007 referendum and then captured key seats in municipal and state elections in November. Opposition leaders, though, were unable to marshal enough support for their cause on Sunday.
Among those who had voted against Chávez was Luigina Villano. "We voted a year ago and we said no," she said. "And here he is, back with the same proposal. We are tired of the same proposal, tired." (source)