Making Sense of Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform
December 1st 2007, by Gregory Wilpert – Venezuelanalysis.com
Chavez's constitutional reform project deepens policies in five main areas:
Deepening Participatory Democracy
- ...introduces a new level of government, the "popular power" (art. 136 of the reform proposal)
- ...the place where democracy is direct, that is, unmediated by elected representatives.
- ...those who are elected are not representatives, but are delegates of the community, who are to execute the community's decisions.
- ...communal councils.
- ...groups that are organized in accordance with the constitution and the law as being part of the popular power.
- ...to provide more democratic and more consistent channels for citizen involvement in their self-governance.
- ...power is to be devolved from municipal, state, and national governments to the popular power (art. 168, 184, 264, 265, 279, 295).
- ...consistent channels for the use of this power must be established,
- ...involved in the co-management of businesses (art. 184)
- ...municipalities ... popular power in their activities (art. 168),
- ...nomination of members of the judicial, electoral, and citizen branches of government (art. 264, 265, 279, 295),
- ...receive at least 5% of the national budget (art. 167) for their community projects.
Deepening Social and Political Inclusion
- giving all citizens the right to equal access to city resources ("right to the city," art. 18),
- prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and health condition (art. 21),
- including young people in the political process by lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 years (art. 64),
- requiring gender parity in candidacies for elected office (art. 64),
- protecting people from having their primary home expropriated due to bankruptcy (art. 82),
- introducing a social security fund for self- and informally employed Venezuelans (art. 87),
- guaranteeing free university education (art. 103),
- recognizing and promoting the culture Venezuelans of African descent (art. 100), and
- giving university students parity in the election of university authorities (art. 109).
Deepening Non-Capitalist (Socialist?) Economic Development
- central bank, which is normally under the sway of international financial institutions, would no longer be independent (art. 318, 320, 321)
- turn food producing and distributing businesses over to public or collective control in order to guarantee food security (art. 305).
- the state oil company PDVSA will face stronger restrictions against privatization (art. 303). PDVSA is a holding company that consists only of subsidiaries, The reform would prohibit the privatization of any national components of PDVSA
- land reform is made more effective by allowing its beneficiaries (mostly cooperatives) to occupy land they have been granted before court challenges to the land redistribution are settled in court (art. 115). (land owners who would tie up the reform in court for many years, while the land would remain idle.)
- Reducing the workweek from 44 to 36 hours per week would give workers more power, vis-à-vis employers (art. 90).
- the reform opens the possibility for greater workplace self-management, via worker councils (art. 70, 136) and
- directives that publicly owned enterprises should involve greater self-management (184 no. 2).Also,
- eliminating intellectual property while maintaining authors' rights to their creations, makes it more difficult for companies to profit from the creative work of others, while still protecting authors' rights over their productions (art. 98).
- strengthen the position of domestic business relative to international business because it removes the requirement that foreign companies be treated the same as national companies (art. 301).
- introduces a variety of new forms of property that move the notion or property away from purely individualistic conceptions (art. 115).
- These new forms are collective, social, and public property.
- opens up the possibility for the creation of socialist production enterprises, as the state has planned.
Developing a "New Geometry of Power"
- the president may designate a variety of new politico-geographic areas, such as federal territories, federal municipalities, federal cities, and "functional districts," and may name the respective authorities, without defining the power of these authorities or the function of these new territorial divisions (art. 16)
- [it does not]means that these new territorial divisions or the respective authorities would take power away from elected representatives if the reformed constitution does not say that their powers would be diminished in any way
- to allow the president to designate national resources and presidential powers to particular areas.
- to concentrate national attention and resources on specific areas, regardless of their existing politico-geographic boundaries, that are in need of such attention because of their poverty or their unused human or physical resources.
- reform implies that communal councils can form governing structures at the city-wide level, thereby moving power down to the communities, rather than up to the president.
- More importantly, though, for the reform and for a new geometry of power, is the president's and the National Assembly's new ability to re-organize municipal boundaries (art. 156 no. 11, 236 no. 3).
- to have the authority to re-organize the municipalities within the individual states
Strengthening Of the Presidency and the National Government
**Important discussion of these points in the article.**
- removal of the two-term limit on serving as president (art. 230)
- extending the presidential term from six to seven years (art. 230)
- the right to being informed would be suspended during a state of emergency, which implies that censorship may be used in such situations (art. 337)
- the state of emergency still includes the right to defense, to a trial, to communication, and not to be tortured.
- the president is being strengthened is in his ability to promote all military officers, not just high-ranking ones, as was previously the case (art. 236 no. 8)
- the president may name as many vice-presidents (including regional ones) as he or she chooses (art. 236 no. 5).
- the reform makes citizen-initiated referenda more difficult by substantially increasing (by up to 100%) the signature requirements for launching such referenda (art. 71-74).
**Leftists take note**
- The strengthening of the president's office continues the slightly contradictory trajectory of the Chavez years, where greater democracy and greater citizen participation is introduced from the top, by the president. Strengthening the presidency thus, in this process, is also supposed to mean strengthening participatory democracy.
- if socialism means true equality of opportunity, then it ought to include a woman's right to an abortion.
- if socialism means real self-determination, then the reform should include much stronger provisions for self-management in all workplaces, both public and private.
- if citizen participation is a key feature of 21st century socialism, then the power of communal councils should be extended to regional and even national levels, not just city-wide levels, to either compete with or displace representative democracy on these levels.
- if 21st century socialism means assuring a fair and sustainable production and distribution of goods and services that go beyond the distribution mechanisms of the market and of the state, then new forms of distribution and production need to be invented.