Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is nothing if not persistent. In 1992, as the attempted coup d’état he had launched collapsed around him, Chávez, then an army officer, gave himself up to loyal government forces and admitted he had failed, “por ahora”—for now. The phrase, suggesting that no defeat is final, stuck and became a rallying cry for his supporters, who are drawn largely from among Venezuela’s poor. In 2007, as elected president, Chávez tried to revamp the constitution to expand state power and abolish presidential term limits. Voters rejected his proposed changes in a referendum last December. Once again, Chávez accepted the results “por ahora,” and now he is trying again, seeking a constitutional amendment that would let him run again after his current term ends in 2013.
Chávez says he needs more time to advance Venezuela’s “Bolívarian Revolution.” Citizens will likely have their chance to vote on his proposal early next year, provided Chávez’s supporters gather enough signatures to request a referendum. But already Venezuela’s opposition is preparing a campaign aimed at getting voters to reject it. Although Chávez has established free health clinics and subsidized grocery stores in the slums, much of the country is still mired in poverty, and his critics charge that he is an authoritarian who has politicized the education system, and weakened typical checks and balances.
Significantly, Venezuela’s students are playing a prominent role in the movement to reject Chávez’s bid. Last year, they organized large street protests and will likely do so again. According to Stratfor, a private intelligence agency, Venezuela’s student movement has links with veterans of Otpor, the youth group that was instrumental in ousting former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, and that later inspired similar democratic uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine.