Earlier this month, Venezuelan voters rejected President Hugo Chavez's sweeping constitutional reform plan. His former defense minister, General Raul Baduel, was among the opponents of the plan, and he tells VOA in an interview its defeat has brightened Venezuela's political future. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington.

Mr. Chavez's former defense minister, General Raul Baduel, emerged as a chief critic of the plan. He told VOA in an exclusive interview the reforms amounted to a coup d'etat aimed at broadening the president's powers.

Baduel says the voters' rejection of the proposed changes has opened up a prospect of a better political future for everyone in Venezuela.

Mr. Chavez's proposed constitution would have abolished the Central Bank's independence and created new forms of community-owned property.

The reforms also would have allowed Mr. Chavez to seek re-election indefinitely.

Baduel says he believes a diversity of ideas is important in sustaining Venezuela's democracy. He says the constitution should shorten the current six-year presidential term. That, he says, would go a long way to helping to promote the diversity of ideas.

The left-leaning former military commander also said the government must act to deal with Venezuela's growing poverty.

He says the Venezuelan government must now move to improve the living standards, especially for the country's poorest. He said those living in misery should be helped as soon as possible.

Analysts say Venezuela's economy has been deteriorating and there are growing shortages of basic food supplies such as meat, milk and sugar. Economists blame the shortages on government price controls that do not allow producers and marketers to make a profit.

Earlier this year, Mr. Chavez responded by saying he would nationalize private supermarkets and food storage facilities caught violating price controls.

General Baduel had been one of Mr. Chávez's closest allies after helping to reinstall him in office during a brief coup in 2002.