Venezuela's pro-government National Assembly overwhelmingly approved constitutional reforms on Friday that would greatly expand the power of President Hugo Chavez and permit him to run for re-election indefinitely.In the absence of any widespread, Saddam-style brutality or threats to the US beyond his usual buffoonery, there's nothing the US will do overtly to depose Chavez, his own claims of imminent US invasion notwithstanding.
The 69 changes to Venezuela's Constitution now go to citizens for a Dec. 2 vote.
The proposed changes, Chavez's most radical move yet in his push to transform Venezuela into a socialist state, threaten to spur a new wave of political upheaval in this oil-rich South American country already deeply divided over Chavez's rule.
The amendments would allow the government to expropriate private property prior to a court ruling and take total control over the Central Bank, create new types of property managed by cooperatives, and extend presidential terms from six to seven years while allowing Chavez to run again in 2012.
All but seven of the assembly's 167 lawmakers voted for the changes by a show of hands.
"Today the Venezuelan people have a pencil in their hands to write their own history, and it's not going to be the history of the elite," said pro-Chavez lawmaker Earle Herrera.
But the threat to Chavez's perceived enemies in the Americas is real. Chavez has been not only purchasing arms at an alarming rate, but he's been cozying up to the world's worst in forming an alliance with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran controls Hizballah, which already has a known presence in South America.
This story, unfortunately, is far from over.