February 20, 2009
PM congratulates Chavez on winning referendum

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who last Sunday, February 15, won a referendum seeking the removal of term limits for the office of President, has been congratulated by this country’s Prime Minister.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the people of Venezuela voted to lift the term limits from the office of President, in what was a “free and fair referendum.”

Dr Gonsalves dismissed talk coming out of the United States of America which suggested that the change in the Venezuelan Constitution will inevitably lead to a Chavez dictatorship. “It is amazing how political propaganda can seek to distort people’s view,” said Dr Gonsalves, who was critical of the United States media’s reporting on the Venezuelan referendum.

“When you listen to the media out of the US, their presentation is as though this is something which is undemocratic…that this is totalitarian, that President Chavez is on his way to being a dictator,” he said.

Chavez, 54, who is a former tank commander, won the referendum by a margin of almost one million voters, electoral officials in Venezuela state.

“Truth against lies (and) the dignity of the homeland have triumphed…the doors of the future are wide open…victory, victory, victory,” Chavez is quoted as saying to his supporters, as he addressed them from the balcony of his palace.

“The win bolsters support for his socialist and anti-US policies,” The AUSTRALIAN online newspaper reported in its February 16 issue. (,25197,25060973-2703,00.html)

Meanwhile, Dr Gonsalves told reporters that while the United States has term limits on its presidency, that is not the only pattern of democratic governance.

“There is not one model of governance. What is important is that you have systems in which you have the choices…people (are) given the opportunity…the election is free and fair, there are cheques and balances,” he said.

He referred to former Vincentian Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, who served as Prime Minister for 16 years, after winning four consecutive elections. “At the bottom line, every country has the right, every people have the right to organize their internal governance arrangements as they see fit,” Dr Gonsalves said.

Dr Gonsalves, who in the past has been criticized and questioned about the strengthening relationship between St Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela, said that the relationship between the two countries is a good one and will continue to be so.

Venezuela is a major ally in the construction of the US$200 million Argyle International Airport and has contributed to several other projects here, including providing US$3.34 million through the Alba Caribe fund, to build 300 houses under the no-income housing programme.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has repeatedly stated that he found the relationship to be too strident.

An official letter of congratulation should have been sent to the Venezuelan Leader by the time this publication rolled off the press.

When Chavez was first elected as President in 1998, it was a five-year term, and he was barred from serving two consecutive terms. This was amended in a referendum in 1999 to allow two terms of six years.

In December of 2007, Chavez lost the referendum that might have lifted the term limit on the presidency but is now basking in the glory of his recent triumph, which clears him to run unhindered for office.