I read in a Spanish newspaper that President Hugo Chávez’s proposal for a constitutional reform is a way to remain indefinitely in power. That’s possible. Except that he would have to be elected repeatedly by the Venezuelan people. Therefore, an indefinite mandate does not depend exactly on him but on the popular acceptance he will have. Chávez has already been elected four times, if we include the famous recall referendum of 2004, which turned out to be a vote of confidence on his administration.
Most of the Venezuelan news media opposed to Chávez’s proposal call it a coup d’état. If that were so, it would be the strangest coup in history, because the reform bill was sent to Parliament, where it will be debated, passed or amended by the legislators, and from there it will go to the barrios, towns, cities and rural areas for discussion. Later, it will be put to a popular referendum.
Chávez proposed 33 changes to the Constitution, among them a proposal that the president be elected for seven years and as many times as the Venezuelan people wish it. “A play to perpetuate himself in power,” some say. What they don’t say is that Chávez leaves his re-election in the hands of the people.
Until now, the presidential elections in Venezuela have been the most monitored in the world, overseen by international institutions such as the Organization of American States or the Carter Foundation. In every instance, it was impossible for anyone to charge fraud or show the government coerced the opposition.
The latest elections, in December 2006, gave Chávez more than 60 percent of the votes, despite the enormous campaign conducted against him by the printed press, radio and television in the hands of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. And despite the millions of dollars the U.S. government gave to the opposition, according to a confession by former U.S. Ambassador William R. Brownfield.
Among the boldest reforms proposed by Chávez is considering the Popular Power as one of the components of the state. What does this mean? It means that the barrio governments, both in the city and rural areas, will have a degree of decision over the problems that involve them, as well as the resources to solve them, after conciliating efforts with the municipal popular power. They would become self-governing communes.
The rest of the structure of government would be composed of the aforementioned Municipal Power, the State Power (the power of the states that form the country) and the National Power or national government. Also, the Public Power is organized in the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral powers. In addition, it creates the posts of regional vice presidents.
Chávez’s proposal posits a change of huge proportions in what it has been Venezuela’s form of government. Also, it changes the state, municipal and national structures. The latter would be composed of a Federal District (which would contain the capital of the republic), the states, the maritime regions, the federal territories, the federal municipalities, the insular districts and the communes.
Chávez also proposes introducing into the Constitution a law forbidding the exploitation of workers, creating a Social Stability Fund that will guarantee the workers such basic rights as retirement, pensions, vacations, rest and economic guarantees to pregnant women, both pre- and post-partum. The law would reduce the workday to six hours and would forbid employers to force their employees to work overtime.
The reform contemplates a ban on unproductive land, as well as a ban on the private exploitation of hydrocarbons in all their forms. It would forbid the exploitation of goods and services used for the public interest or of a strategic nature.
It should be noted that none of these reforms, except those that defend the interests of the workers, are new in the capitalist system. In some developed countries that established the fading “welfare society,” the measures were even more drastic.
What’s most important for those who want to know what 21st-Century socialism will be is that Chávez proposes that the Constitution should accept five forms of property: public, social, collective, mixed and private.
Public property belongs to the state organizations. Social, to the people as a whole. Collective property is owned by social groups or groups of persons. Mixed property is composed of public and private capital.
The bill also guarantees private property, which belongs to natural or legal persons. In other words, the reform proposal respects the private ownership of the means of production. What it prevents is the systematic exploitation of the workers.
When submitting the reforms to Parliament, Chávez addressed the businessmen: “Entrepreneurs, private sector, you are not excluded. We need you as allies. Together we shall build the great country that Venezuela is becoming. This is a concept that allows all of us to join together in cooperation!”
This is not the first time that Chávez makes such a call to the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the transnational corporations. It seems that the bourgeois mentality and the class interests (selfish as they are) prevent them from understanding the message, which, far from harming them, would benefit them in the long run.
What happens is that they have to renounce to something that has been their raison d’être: the control of the state, which now passes to the hands of the people. In his radio program “Hello, president” of Aug. 19, Chávez denounced plans by the opposition and the CIA to impede the approval and application of the reforms.
There are other reform proposals, but these seem to me to be the most important and significant. I think you realize that, if they are approved, they will transform the nation’s structure of government and will grant the Venezuelan people a participation and leading role never before seen in any other country. The problem lies in applying these attributes and making them work.
It is evident that Chávez proposes revolutionary changes, and revolution is a work of social engineering that transforms the economic, political and social structure of a country, producing successes and failures. Successes are important, but so are failures, because it is not possible to eliminate them and they always have their consequences, their sequels, which drag on for years, sometimes for decades.
Avoiding the mistakes made by other revolutions that built (or attempted to build) socialism is something that Chávez has advised on multiple occasions. The same mistakes may not be made, but some mistakes will be, because revolutions (to use a truism) are the work of men, not of machines.
So the questions we should ask are two: Does Chávez have cadres sufficiently trained to carry out those reforms? Are the Venezuelan people prepared to govern, to conduct a Bolivarian revolution of social justice and equity for all?
The ballast represented by the ideas of capitalism, of individualism, is present in Venezuela, as it is everywhere else in the world. To get rid of that ballast, to create the new type of man Chávez talks about is no easy task.
First, because it is easier to think in the interests of individuals than in the interests of collectives. Second, because to create that “new man” you need “educators,” who in turn “need to be educated,” as stated with extraordinary vision by Karl Marx in a thesis about Feuerbach.
Beyond constitutional reforms, that’s the major challenge before Chávez. And that’s the main reason why Chávez must remain at the helm of the Venezuelan government as long as he can, while the people — who have been the major beneficiaries of his work — understand the challenge. And it seems they do, don’t you think?