Major protests in Venezuela over proposed constitutional changes

Friday, November 9, 2007

On Wednesday, November 7, 2007, tens of thousands of Venezuelans participated in a march in Caracas to protest President Hugo Chávez's efforts to change the Constitution of Venezuela, which would remove any limits on presidential terms, allow the president to control the Central Bank of Venezuela and enable him to create new provinces governed by his own appointees.

A group of students who had participated in the march were fired upon by masked gunmen as they returned to their university campus in Caracas. "If we do not take action now, we will be condemned to live without democracy under a communist dictator," said a flyer distributed to students.

Chávez supporters were not silent however: "If you light the fuse, be prepared to put it out, because if you don't, we will give you a beating," said one on state television.

"We will not fall into the trap," said Eleazar Narvaez, head of Central University of Venezuela. "The weapons we use are ideas, not guns."

"Don't allow Venezuela to go down a path that nobody wants to cross," student leader Freddy Guevara told Globovisión.

Protests also occurred in six other cities, and there were violent clashes between students and throwing rocks, and police shooting plastic bullets. Demonstrations occurred in the cities of Mérida, Maracaibo, Puerto la Cruz, San Cristóbal, Barquisimeto and Valencia on Wednesday.

Clashes grew with dozens of students surrounding a building where gunmen were hiding. Armed men arrived later, and chased the students away. Government officials blamed the media for inciting disorder.

Chávez is seeking to enact a number of controversial reforms, but is seeking to submit them for a public approval via a national referendum on December 2. There are concerns that the protests could disrupt the arrangements for the referendum.