The President of Venezuela’s defeat in last Sunday’s referendum on whether to change the constitution also meant that a proposal to guarantee gay rights was swept aside.

Hugo Chavez wanted the changes to significantly increase his powers. The new constitutional arrangements would have allowed him to stand indefinitely for re-election.

It would have also given him control over foreign currency reserves, more powers over local government and over the declaration of martial law.

Critics said that if passed the referendum could have led the country into a dictatorship.

Voters were presented with a two-part ballot. The second set of changes included rules to guarantee gay rights, making sexual orientation one of the categories protected under human rights in the constitution.

Many analysts, both in Venezuela and abroad, said that some of the proposed changes, including the protection of LGBT rights, the reduction of daily working hours from eight to six, and communal councils where residents could choose how to spend government funds, were populist moves and hid Chavez’s intention to establish a life-long dictatorship.

In September, Chavez denied claims from El Mundo newspaper about his sexuality.

The Spanish newspaper had reported that it was widely believed that the Venezuelan leader was gay, but had not come out yet.

Chavez, talking to thousands of supporters in Barsquisimeto, 350 km west of Venezuela’s capital Caracas, said he had been accused of many things, but being gay was a new one.

He added that he had nothing against gay people, whom he respected, but added that he considered himself “macho enough” to prove the contrary.

In November Chavez visited his ally President Ahmadinejad of Iran, when they said that they would defeat the US imperialism together.

The Iranian president is well-known for his tough stance against homosexuality, which is seen as a crime under Iranian law and punished with the death penalty.