On December 2, by a slim 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent margin, Venezuelans rejected a slate of sixty-nine constitutional reforms championed by President Hugo Chávez. Fiercely debated in Venezuela, the referendum sparked a spirited discussion among our contributors.
Many of Chávez's proposals–lowering the voting age; prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race or disability; expanding social security; shortening the workweek; and requiring gender parity in candidates for elected office–were greatly admired. Other measures–such as the elimination of term limits on the presidency and the expansion of executive power to declare a state of emergency–were less well received.
In many mainstream media outlets, commentators worried about Chávez's emerging "dictatorship" and cheered the referendum's defeat as a triumph for democracy. Looking beyond such rhetoric, many of our contributors have different interpretations of the most controversial reforms, although some are critical of not only their substance but the manner in which they were presented to the Venezuelan people.
What forces drove the opposition to Chávez's reforms? What does the referendum's defeat mean for the future of the Bolivarian revolution? And what did the majority of the US press get wrong (or right) about the vote in Venezuela? Our forum contributors, representing a range of perspectives, tackle these and other questions. They are:
Mark Weisbrot: Progressive Change in Venezuela
Sujatha Fernandes: What Does the 'No' Vote Mean?
Chesa Boudin: A Silver Lining for the Bolivarian Revolution
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: Behind the Student Movement's Victory
Greg Grandin: Chavismo and Democracy