[For venezuelanalysis.com editor Gregory Wilpert, with the surprising loss of the constitutional reform referendum in December, Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution reached a turning point.]
Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution at a Turning Point
[Editor's note: A nearly identical version of this article appeared in the January, 2008 edition of Le Monde Diplomatique
With the surprising loss of the constitutional reform referendum in December (by a minimal vote difference of 1.3%) Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution reached a turning point. The April 2002 coup attempt, the December 2002 shutdown of the oil industry and the August 2004 recallreferendum represented major defeats for the opposition and a radicalisation ofthe Bolivarian process. But the failed reform was quite different: it was the first defeat for the Bolivarian movement, after 12 national electoral contests,since Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998,1]and the first time that he and his movement had been forced to examine whichway the process must go if it is to advance.
Shortly after his re-election in December 2006, Chávez had argued that Venezuela's new constitution needed to be reformed for transition towards "21st century socialism". But when he presented his proposal to reform 33 articles of the constitution in August, after delays and closed-door discussions among top advisers, it provoked confusion and skepticism in all butthe most pro-Chávez sectors of society. The skepticism intensified when the National Assembly (which may modify, and must approve the president's constitutional reform proposal) added another 36 articles.
The 69 (out of 350) articles that were to be changed fell into four categories: strengthening participatory democracy, broadening social inclusion, supporting non-neoliberal economic development, and strengthening the central government.2]The first two were relatively uncontroversial; they included giving the newly formed communal councils more power and more secure funding, lowering thevoting age from 18 to 16, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and health, requiring gender parity in the nomination of candidates for public office, introducing a social security fund for the self-employed and those in the informal labor market, guaranteeing free university education and recognizing Venezuelans of African descent.
But the reforms that affected the economy and the president's powers proved far more controversial because of what they contained- and what the opposition claimed they contained. Among economic reforms were the removal of central bank autonomy, prohibition of the privatization of the oil industry, strengthening of land reform, reduction of the working week from 44 to 36 hours, and the introduction of social and collective property rights. The reform proposed to eliminate the two-term limit that a president may serve, lengthen the presidential term from six to seven years, allow the president to create special zones for economic development, give the president the power to reorganize municipal boundaries, make citizen-initiated referenda more difficult by increasing signature requirements, allow the president to promote all military officers, and toughen state of emergency provisions by removing the right to information.
What Went Wrong
Since the December 3rd defeat, Chávez and his supporters have tried to figure out what went wrong. For the opposition, the reason its side won was simple: Venezuelans rejected the president's attempt tocreate 21st century socialism, which it sees as Castro-communism. However, for Chávez supporters, who have always denied that their project is Cuban state socialism, the answer is not that simple - Cuban state socialism was not on the ballot.
(click here to view entire article)