Venezuelan People Vote 'No' on Chavez's Powerful Reforms

The Election Commission announced Monday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez narrowly lost the referendum he proposed in a 51% to 49% vote of the people.

Among many proposed constitutional changes, the referendum called for an end to presidential term limits. Presently, the country has a two-term limit, consisting of six years each, and under the current law, Chavez will leave office in 2012.

Additionally, the referendum called for more nationalization of private companies in Venezuela, an oil-rich country.

The government-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), stated in a release dated November 11, 2007, that it was "prepared to transfer power to the people" following the reform's approval. "People will have increasing participation in energy and public service management thanks to the concept of social, direct and indirect, property, in addition to private property, enshrined in the draft," the People's Power Minister of Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramirez is quoted as saying.

Reaction to the Vote
The president conceded the defeat on the country's state-run television station saying, "I congratulate my adversaries for this victory." He added, "For now, we could not do it," a quote that some have linked to his 1992 failed coup.

The Venezuelan president said his acceptance of the vote showed that his rule is democratic. "There is no dictatorship here," he said.

Despite this loss, which is the first for him during his presidency, he stated that he will continue working for social change. "We make the greatest effort to continue debating these issues in order to achieve the greatest social inclusion and social equality," Chavez said of his efforts for the future.

Opposition to Chavez and his social reforms rejoiced in the streets of Caracas with the announcement. "It's democracy winning over an authoritarian project," said Leopoldo Lopez, Opposition Mayor of Caracas' Chacao Municipality, BBC News reported. "Venezuela won today, democracy won today, and I am sure that this victory for the Venezuelan people will have a very important impact in the rest of Latin America."

Chavez and Oil
President Chavez has been instituting a national oil policy, working toward the nationalization of oil in Venezuela, since 2003. PdVSA states on its website that the policy aims to "bring about authentic oil nationalization, calls for the reaffirmation of the nation's property rights over its subterranean deposits of hydrocarbons, as well as the recovery of control of oil activities within its frontiers, from the legal and fiscal perspective to full control over the national oil industry."

In February 2007, Chavez stripped independent oil companies of their majority control of exploration and production projects in Venezuela. Companies affected include Chevron, Statoil (now StatoilHydro), Total and BP. Additionally, in June of this year, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil did not accept the new terms and chose to stop their projects in the country.

Since then, a number of new oil initiatives have been realized between Venezuela and other countries, including a successful meeting with Russia in October and a $4 billion deal with China in November.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks Venezuela No. 9 of the top oil-producing countries in the world for 2006. According to the EIA, last year Venezuela produced more than 2.8 million barrels of oil per day, which is more than 38% of the total oil produced in Central and South America and represents 3.3% of the total oil produced in the world for 2006. The country is also ranked No. 10 in the world for crude oil production and holds some of the biggest reserves in the world.

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