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July 03, 2007

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Henry

It is amazing the way in which Chávez rewrites and falsifies history. Reading the article, you would think that the Constitution of 1999 was a sort of compromise between Chávez’s platform and presumably those of a strong opposition. In the article we read:

The president criticized the current constitution, created under Chavez in 1999 through a constitutional assembly, explaining that it "was born in the middle of a storm," and that many pieces of the old order "remained infiltrated" in the new constitution.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that Chávez called for a referendum to decide the creation of a National Constituent Assembly in April of 1999 (three months after he took power); the deputies were elected in July (six months after he took power. In other words, this process took place during what political scientists call the “honeymoon period” of an elected president. Voters are willing, sometimes overwhelmingly, to give a newly elected president the benefit of the doubt.

The representatives were elected under a system that went against the Constitution of 1961, that established the proportional representation of minorities (similar to the German electoral system). In fact, Chávez took advantage of his popularity to present lists of his followers and ask voters to trust him (most were just political ciphers that had one thing in common: unquestioning loyalty to Chávez). Most people voted for these blanket lists. After the elections were held, and thanks to the peculiarities of the ad hoc electoral system approved, Chávez had a Constituent Assembly with 125 supporters out of 131 deputies (about 95%), even though only about 60% of electors had voted for chavista candidates.

Initially, the deputies debated relatively free from outside pressure. During the first reading of the proposed Constitution, Chávez spent a significant amount of time abroad, promoting himself internationally. Once he returned, during the second reading --- which, unbelievably, lasted one week --- he intervened to impose his pet points: change of the nation’s name from República de Venezuela to República Bolivariana de Venezuela; greater executive power in a country with an already strong executive (including absolute control over the military, whose appointments were previously approved by Congress); lengthening of the presidential term from five to six years with immediate reelection (previously, former presidents had to wait 10 years before running again for office, an unsatisfactory arrangement), even though most people wanted either a shorter term with reelection (similar to the US) or a longer term without reelection (similar to Mexico); the change to a unicameral congress (part of Chávez’s suspicion of federal, or decentralized, systems); just to name the most important ones.

The Constitution of 1999 was rushed to approval by referendum in December of that year. No mention was made by Chávez at any time of Socialism or anti-imperialism. These ideas were nowhere to be found in his electoral platform of 1998. So, the “old order” did not remain “infiltrated” in the Constitution. Chávez and his supporters in the ANC had complete control over the drafting of the constitution.

It is obvious that Chávez wants to be reelected indefinitely, greater control over the military, in a model similar to the Cuban (regular soldiers plus militias), and a more centralized government (although it would seem that the Communal Councils is a move to greater decentralization, in reality this amorphous organizations have only one thing in common: subservience to Chávez). As for private property, Chávez very clearly threatens to eliminate it, thus:

Productive private property that works in function of the satisfaction of the necessities of the country, in line with the constitution and the laws, will be able to coexist with this project, he said. That will depend on the behavior of the private sectors of the economy.

Thus, private property is only allowed if it is “productive” and satisfies the “necessities” of the country. Of course, that could change, depending on the “behavior” of the private sector. In other words, Chávez will decide which private property will be allowed, but at any time this could change, if the “behavior” of the private sector is not to his liking.

What is the Bolivarian content of these measures? Well, for one thing, Bolívar feared that if a leader stayed in power for too long, he could become a tyrant, with the acquiescence of the governed. This, of course, is a subversive idea in Chávez’s Venezuela:

La continuación de la autoridad en un mismo individuo frecuentemente ha sido el término de los gobiernos democráticos. Las repetidas elecciones son esenciales en los sistemas populares, porque nada es tan peligroso como dejar permanecer largo tiempo en un mismo ciudadano el poder. El pueblo se acostumbra a obedecerle y él se acostumbra a mandarlo; de donde se origina la usurpación y la tiranía. Un justo celo es la garantía de la libertad republicana, y nuestros ciudadanos deben temer con sobrada justicia que el mismo magistrado, que los ha mandado mucho tiempo, los mande perpetuamente. (Discurso de Angostura, 1819)

Although he later contemplated the possibility of a president for life (in the case of Bolivia’s Constitution), this idea was based on Bolivian conditions and executive power was drastically diminished.

Bolívar’s words have come back to haunt Chávez, self-appointed Pontifex Maximus of the Bolivarian religion.

Daniel

I don't really understand Red Pepper's motivation to support the Chavez government. Naively I would say people would think that Chavez fights inequality not only in Venezuela but all over the world. Funny enough, there is more poor people in Venezuela now, than what it was 10 years back. Yet the Venezuelan oil basket is at 65 usd.

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