The "Resilient" Left-Wing Strongman Hugo Chavez

A Times text box lauds Venezuelan President Chavez's "resilience" in winning a referendum ending term limits - but what of the strong-armed intimidation tactics leading up to the vote?

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez won a referendum ending presidential term limits and allowing him to run for re-election, and "injecting fresh vibrancy into his socialist-inspired revolution," according to Simon Romero's Monday front page from Caracas, "Chavez Wins Bid to End Term Limits."

President Hugo Chávez handily won a referendum on Sunday that will end presidential term limits, allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely and injecting fresh vibrancy into his socialist-inspired revolution.

The results, coming after voters had rejected a similar effort by Mr. Chávez just 15 months ago, pointed to his resilience after a decade in power, as well as to the fragmentation of his opposition, which as recently as November had won key mayoralties and governorships.

The vote opens the way not only for Mr. Chávez to run for a new six-year term when his current one expires in 2013, but could also bolster his ambitious agenda as an icon of the left and a counterweight to American policies in Latin America.

Romero eventually got into some criticism of Chavez's authoritarian tactics, but none of that penetrated the story's headline or text box, which serenely reported: "Results show the resilience of a leader's socialist movement."

The vote, which was hastily arranged in the last two months, followed weeks of fierce campaigning on both sides. The campaigning was marked by antigovernment protests and attacks by supporters of Mr. Chávez on institutions viewed as critical of the president, including media organizations like the Globovisión television network.

Still, representatives of opposition parties swiftly recognized Mr. Chávez's victory. Freddy Guevara, a prominent opposition leader, said the result called for "a process of internal reflection."


Mr. Chávez threw the weight of institutions controlled by his supporters, including the National Assembly and the entire federal bureaucracy, behind the proposal. Petróleos de Venezuela, the powerful national oil company, and CANTV, the national telephone company, were among state entities that mobilized employees to campaign for the measure.

Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas and other recently elected mayors and governors who are critical of the president led the opposition in the campaign against Mr. Chávez's proposal. Antigovernment student groups joined the fray, facing tear-gas reprisals from security forces in protests in Caracas and provincial cities in recent weeks.

"I wish I had woken up this Sunday morning trying to resolve the problem of trash collection or the problem of crime," Mr. Ledezma told reporters as he cast his ballot here. "But, well, they shoved us into this referendum alley."

In the last days before the vote, life in this capital city seemed to shift into slow motion. Public offices shut down so government workers could attend rallies in favor of the proposal. Restaurants and bars obeyed an edict prohibiting liquor sales.

Romero is at least tougher on Chavez than reporter Juan Forero, who wrote flatteringly of Chavez back in June 2005: is Mr. Chávez who is emerging as this generation's Castro - a charismatic figure and self-styled revolutionary who bearhugs his counterparts on state visits, inspires populist left-wing movements and draws out fervent well-wishers from Havana to Buenos Aires.