Saturday, September 17, 2005


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

Originally published here
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.

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