There has been a lot of media focus on Venezuela’s recently inaugurated National Constituent Assembly (ANC). However, little attention has been paid to the response it has generated among grassroots organisations or the variety of proposals being discussed in communities in terms of potential constitutional changes.
The ANC was put forward by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as a means towards a peaceful and democratic solution to months of political turmoil in the country. It will have plenipotentiary powers to deal with the current economic and political crisis, and will discuss proposals to reform the constitution, though any official amendments will have to be put to a referendum.
Maria Helena Ramirez Hernandez, an activist with the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance (ASGDRe) and student at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, spoke with Green Left Weekly’s Federico Fuentes about what the July 30 vote for the ANC meant for grassroots Chavistas – supporters of the pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution initiated by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez – and the kinds of constitutional changes that the ASGDRe are putting forward for debate.
Could you tell us a bit about the importance of the July 30 vote for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) - what happened on the day, the significance of the voter turnout and the impact it has had on the political situation in Venezuela since.
The importance of the July 30 elections went beyond the event itself because, in the minds of Venezuelans, it represented a critical turning point: It was an opportunity for the people to express themselves in an election on two very different proposals.
One proposal was to support terrorism as a means to overthrow the government; the other was to choose representatives from grassroots organisations across the country to a National Constituent Assembly to discuss and approve the decisions needed to solve the problems we need to solve.
It turned out that 8,089,320 people chose to vote for the solutions to be thought up, deliberated upon, taken and made reality through the ANC.
So what was important was deciding, with the support of the people, that we as a society were going to move forward with solving all the things that need to be solved.
For example: how to overcome the threat of terrorism; how to make even more efficient decisions regarding the control of prices of goods and food; establish a new strong base for building a non-oil dependent economy; establish the basis for the recognition of a more diverse society where, for example, gay marriage is included and women have the right to decide over their own bodies (safe abortion).
On that day, July 30, a nationwide movement of supporters went out to vote. Having more than 8 million people vote for a proposal sounds like an easy task, but it's not, especially if people don't really believe in the proposal or support it.
It is important to say that most of the country got the chance to vote in peace, but in some states, opposition terrorist groups were out trying to physically stop people from vote. They closed down streets, threaten to kill voters and burnt down some polling stations, among other violent street actions.
In Altamira, an area in the east of Caracas, they practically didn't allow anyone to vote as they took over that area. When the police went to settle down the situation so people could vote, the terrorists decided to start throwing explosives at the police.
So it is important to point out that a lot of people were not able to vote due to threats and due to not being able to get to their polling stations.
Despite all this, more than 8 million people voted.
The impact of the vote has been already seen on the streets, it has been felt in the streets, as the country slowly returns back to regular life.
Because these terrorist groups had threatened Chavistas with death, Chavistas had been very discreet when they went around the streets, for security measures.
But on the morning of July 31, you could feel the Chavista spirit in the streets, people smiling; it was a huge boost to the spirit, just when we all needed it the most.
Once again, the majority of people in Venezuela have proven to the world that we support our Bolivarian Revolution, our President and the proposal for a National Constituent Assembly as the right path forward.
Prior to the vote, the ASGDRe presented a political platform for discussion in the ANC and more broadly. What were some of the key issues put forward, particularly in terms of the situation facing the sex and gender diverse community.
Some of the key issues we brought to the table prior to the elections were:
· Actions that lead to retributive/restorative justice for hate crimes, femicides, as well as discrimination based on sexual orientation, expression and gender identity.
· Guarantee the irreversibility of collective ownership of land and worker-occupied means of production, and promote new models of economic relationships based on the needs of the people over profits.
· Guarantee same-sex marriage and civil unions to protect the right to build different families within Venezuelan society.
· Because sex and gender diverse youth are among the most vulnerable sectors of the population, mechanisms must be created so that they have the same access to decent work, housing and quality education
· Motherhood and paternity should be a free and direct choice for citizens. For this to happen, it is necessary that women have the right to make decisions over their own bodies, whether to have children, how many children to have and when to have them. The state should not criminalise women’s sovereign decision regarding the continuation of a pregnancy or not.
· Nature must be recognised as a political subject, and as such biodiversity must be protected and not considered as simply a natural resource for extraction.
Were any of the candidates that the ASGDRe supported elected to the ANC? How do you intend to pursue discussion around the platform?
We supported a platform created by various organizations called the “Plataforma Popular Chavismo Bravío” (Indomitable Chavismo Popular Platform). Some of our candidates were elected to the ANC.
There will be open assemblies where we will continue to push debate and where we will work on proposals together with the people in our area, making sure that we present our proposals for debate in the sessions of the National Constituent Assembly.
What are your initial impressions of the ANC, given its composition and initial decisions?
Personally, I am very happy to finally see it happening. I also welcome the fact that a woman was elected as the president. I see that the ANC members are open to proposals and that each day they understand more clearly their historical responsibility.
Their initial decisions have been strong in setting the tone and spirit of the Assembly, with a vision and genuine feeling of what the real problems are and the deeply-felt need to find genuine and profound solutions.
They have also been respectful to towards the other powers of the state and have not steamrolled over anybody.