Ex-wife damns Hugo Chavez ‘coup’
by Jose Orozco, Caracas
PRESIDENT Hugo Chavez of Venezuela routinely blames foreign conspirators for any opposition to his plans to turn his country into a socialist paradise. Yet his latest attempt to rewrite the constitution to allow him to remain in office indefinitely has brought the opposition closer to home: his critics now include his ex-wife.
Marisabel Rodriguez, the mother of Chavez’s nine-year-old daughter Rosines, has startled Venezuelans by plunging into a fierce battle over today’s constitutional referendum with a warning that her ex-husband is bent on “an absolute concentration of power”.
In an interview last week, Rodriguez accused Chavez of attempting to “hypnotise the people” and added: “I can’t support this zeal for perpetuating time in power.”
Rodriguez, who married Chavez in 1998 and left him four years later, is one of a growing number of people who have dared to criticise the Venezuelan leader’s plans, at a time when his personal popularity has appeared unassailable among the beneficiaries of his oil-financed welfare programmes.
Yet growing unease at what one senior general has described as “a constitutional coup d’état” has sparked revolt on the streets of Caracas and outspoken criticism from former Chavez allies such as Rodriguez. She said she became disillusioned with her husband’s politics at an early stage and divorced him rather than become “a wife of convenience, a wife of appearance”.
Riding the wave of an energy boom, Chavez is promising to transform Venezuela into a people’s republic where a strong president can ensure that buoyant oil revenues are spent primarily on the poor. “Capitalist Venezuela is entering its grave,” he said earlier this month.
Yet proposed reforms abolishing presidential term limits, weakening private property rights and centralising administrative powers have provoked unexpectedly fierce opposition. Tens of thousands of people protested at the proposals in marches through Caracas last week.
Opinion polls suggest the race may be closer than the president had expected, but it would still be a shock if Chavez, who controls all the levers of government, failed to produce a “yes” vote by the end of today.
For the western governments gloomily monitoring Chavez’s antics, no early respite seems likely from the loud-mouthed populist who variously refers to President George W Bush as a devil, a donkey, a coward, a murderer and, in one particularly colourful outburst, as “more dangerous than a monkey with a razor blade”.
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