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Hugo Chávez for life?

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After Chávez won handily in Venezuela's 2006 presidential elections, he quickly moved to nationalize major industries, such as telecommunications.

Chávez has earned almost religious reverence among his followers, especially in poor areas, where he has channeled billions of dollars into social programs in the form of health and literacy programs.

"I love my president," says an elated Lourdes Mesones, a stay-at-home mom from the poor neighborhood of Petare. "He helps my people, and no one else ever has."

But the victory was a blow to his detractors. "We have had 10 years, and he's done some good things," says Arles Finol, an administrative assistant in Caracas. "But he has not taken care of the fundamentals, especially corruption and insecurity. We don't need to give him more time, we need change."

Big setback for the opposition

It was also a major setback for Chávez's opposition, who hung up signs reminding residents of high inflation and homicide rates, issues that hurt Chávez's party in local elections in November.

Chávez had lost a similar attempt to remove term limits just 15 months ago, with a constitutional reform package that included an article for unlimited reelection of heads of state. His loss, his first since taking office in 1999, emboldened opposition political parties. But Sunday's victory – helped by heavy campaigning on state-funded media – shows his resilience.

Now the opposition fears that nothing will stand in his way. Chávez already controls the nation's institutions, from the congress to the courts.

"Until now he has showed a moderate authoritarianism, but indefinite rule opens the door to full dictatorship," says Elias Pino Iturrieta, a Venezuelan historian.

Launching his 2012 bid already?

Already Chávez used the referendum victory as an opportunity to launch a new presidential bid.

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