Archive for September 17th, 2005

…And now, what is wrong with your Constitution, Mr. Chavez?

September 17, 2005

On September 14, 2005, Chavez presented the candidates of his party for
the next National Assembly. The election will take place in December of
this year. The National Assembly is currently slightly dominated by the
Chavistas so that they can pass the laws as they wish (remember the
“porque nos da la gana” of Iris Varela? (El Nacional, June 22, 2005,
A2)). However, a much more important majority is necessary to reform
the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution. According to article 343, 2/3 of the
votes of the National Assembly are needed . That is why the December
election for the members of the National Assembly is so critical.

In his speech, Chavez told his candidates that he wanted that, by January 5, 2006, right after the December elections, they start working on major Constitutional changes.

Why? And which changes are needed?

Moreover, how come the government official page (the MINCI) does not mention Chavez constitutional request to his candidates when reporting the same event?

Given that the December election is so critical, why not openly discuss the changes before the election? What is Chavez hiding?

Over the years, Venezuela has had many Constitutions.
Typically every “caudillo” aiming to stay in power, would modify the
Constitution accordingly and pass it as his own to tailor-made his
political needs while providing a veneer of legitimacy. Notably among
them, was Juan Vicente Gomez, a tough dictator that stayed in power from 1908 until his death in 1935 . He ordered at least seven changes to the Constitution and was quite successful in his quest for absolute power.

The
first Constitution of the Democratic era was passed in 1961. It defined
presidential terms of 5 years. To reinforce the democratic rule and to
make sure that the classical Venezuelan “caudillos” would not eternize
themselves in power, the writers of the 1961 Constitution stated that a
president could not run for re-election right away. At least ten years
had to elapse from the end of a presidential term before that president
would be allowed to run again. That rule, so necessary in a country
that had lived through dozens of takeovers, was systematically
respected by all the leaders of the democratic era.

Then came
Chavez. First, on February 4, 1992, after years of conspiring, he tried
to overturn by force the Constitutional mandate of Carlos Andres Perez.

Later,
when he was elected president in 1998, he was swore in on what he
called the “moribunda” (the dying Constitution). He immediately started
a campaign to create a Constitutional Assembly to be able to pass a new
Constitution tailor-made according to his wishes. The Constitutional
Assembly, whose mandate was only to write the new Constitution,
illegally took over all the legislative powers of the Congress, that
had an opposition majority.

In the end, all Chavez’s wishes were
included in the Constitution proposed by the Constitutional Assembly
that was to be approved by Referendum on December 15, 1999.

There
was one particular wish that was very important for Chavez. Instead of
the non-renewable 5 year term stated in the 1961 Constitution, the new
president would have a 6 year term, renewable for one more term. This
would give Chavez 12 years. But, the deal was even better! The Chavez
controlled Constitutional Assembly illegally dissolved the elected
Congress and did not respect the transitory period that had to take
place before the new Supreme Court judges and government figures could
be nominated.

Therefore, right after winning the 1999
Constitutional referendum and in the midst of the confusion and sadness
created by the 1999 Vargas tragedy, Chavez was able to change the Court
and all the government figures without any wait, giving him more power
than any other President before him in modern Venezuela history.

A sweet deal.

I
hope that the occasional reader now understands why Chavez was so keen
to ask the poor people of Venezuela to get out and vote in the
Referendum to ratify his Constitutional project on December 15, 1999
instead of declaring right away the State of Emergency. (please refer to my post).

You may also wonder why Chavez has been in power since 1998 if the new
Constitution was passed in 1999 and, according to the last one, there
was no immediate re-election. In fact, even though Chavez was elected
under the old rule, a complacent Supreme Court allowed him to run for
President in 2000 for a 6 year renewable period. Therefore, Venezuela
has been under the rule of Chavez for seven years. This is more than
any other president in modern Venezuela history….except, of course,
Juan Vicente Gomez, the good old dictator that stayed in power more
than 27 years thanks, among other things, to his changes in the
Constitution.

Now, after 7 years of unprecedented concentration
of powers and total control, Chavez has started again a campaign to
change the Constitution. A Constitution that was tailor-made for him
and that reflected every one of his wishes.

Why is he pushing now for a Constitutional reform? Why is his 1999 Constitution not good enough?

And more importantly, What are the changes that you want to make, Mr. Chavez?

Why haven’t you told us yet?

We
can guess. We can guess that Chavez, as a military man and a good ol’
Venezuelan caudillo is thirsty for even more power and control.

So now Venezuelans have two clear paths in front of them. To let go, or to fight back.

This time there are no excuses. They have been clearly warned by Chavez himself.

Jorge Arena.

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