For all intents and purposes, although not quite yet in fact.  Hugo Chavez won his referendum yesterday removing term limits from his office.  The Venezuelan president faced retirement in 2012 if voters didn’t agree to amend the constitution to allow him a third term, and as McClatchy puts it, “perhaps more”:

President Hugo Chavez won a major victory Sunday when Venezuelans lifted term limits, which will permit him to run for re-election in 2012 and perhaps beyond.

Chavez’s measure won 54.3 percent of the vote, according to the national election board. …

The result is expected to give fresh impetus to Chavez’s decade-long effort to remake Venezuela as a socialist state. It also will fortify his role as the undisputed leader of a resurgent left in Latin America that seeks to check free trade, capitalism and Washington’s political and economic reach in the region. Chavez said he got his first congratulatory message came Fidel Castro, the long-time Cuban leader and U.S. nemesis.

The victory in the national referendum also guarantees continued political tumult in Venezuela and wherever else Chavez injects himself in Latin America. He leads an anti-U.S. bloc that includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Honduras.

Six weeks ago, the referendum trailed by 17 points.  How did Chavez complete a 26-point turnaround so quickly?  McClatchy’s report sounds a little too creduluous:

Polls by Datanalisis, a Caracas-based survey firm, found that Chavez made up a 17-point deficit in the campaign’s final six weeks.

He did it, Datanalisis said, by targeting the 20 percent of the electorate who said Chavez had been a good president but who were reluctant to allow him to remain in power indefinitely.

They wait until almost the last paragraphs of the lengthy article to tell this story:

In this deeply polarized country, the climate of fear was evident in the answer of Nestor Moreno, a 58-year-old construction worker, when he was asked how he’d voted.

“I voted yes because I didn’t want to face reprisals for voting no,” said Moreno. “People lose jobs because they don’t agree with the Chavez regime.  Chavez is very authoritarian[.”]

Chavez didn’t risk anything this time.  He got the result he wanted, after an embarrassing loss in December 2007.  How he got it will only matter to the historians now.  Chavez is now a dictator-in-waiting, and anyone that thinks that Hugo plans on limiting himself to three, four, five, or any determinate amount of time in power is indulging in delusional thinking.

Tags: Constitution