The anti-blockade law was unanimously passed by Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly on October 9 by the small fraction of the body’s members who were present. The Maduro government has argued that the bill, which ranks as a constitutional law, is a necessary legal tool to confront US sanctions.
Critics point out that several articles of the law jeopardise sovereignty by opening the door to privatization in strategic economic sectors while granting the government the possibility to suspend legislation at its discretion if required to circumvent sanctions. Additionally, critics say it allows the government to “suspend, in specific cases, legal norms that are inapplicable or counterproductive.” Other concerns include “confidentiality” clauses, which analysts claim could lead to a lack of transparency and accountability, and possible violations of the Venezuelan constitution. Finally, some ANC deputies have denounced participation restrictions in the debate and technical irregularities in the passing of the law.
As part of the popular debate over the law, the hashtag #NoApruebo (“I don’t approve”) became the top trend on social media the day before the ANC’s debate, and small protests have been held across the country. For their part, a number of government spokespeople have claimed that these critical positions amount to “treasonous” support for the US-led blockade, while those critical of the text allege that Maduro is leading efforts to roll back the Chavista project.
The following is a balanced analysis of the debate.
I've been so proud to be Chavista over the past few days!
An intense debate has opened up amongst revolutionaries, journalists, academics and constituent deputies concerning the anti-blockade law. Clarifications have been demanded about the contents of a version of the law doing the rounds (it was never made clear whether it was the official one or not) and its relation to the 1999 Constitution as the highest law of the land, as well as to a fundamental principle of Chavez’s revolution: public property as the nation's heritage.
Significant sectors of Chavismo have challenged [the government over this law], arguing in favour of the cornerstone principles of the Bolivarian and Chavista project developed in a way not seen for a long time. Congratulations!
However, there were also exaggerations and insults during the debate from both sides.
I must say that it is unfair to insinuate that President Nicolas Maduro is surrendering the revolution’s advances. The president has to make decisions, has to govern in suffocating conditions and tries to find room for manoeuvre by passing the law. The man and his circumstances must be understood.
But it is also unfair and a very low blow to call the courageous voices which publicly expressed their doubts or disagreements with the text proposed by Maduro as traitors or disloyal to the president. It's crude blackmail. What is needed is the opening of an authentic space of internal debate where the changes underway to the model built by Chávez can be explained and understood as an outcome of the circumstances.
The final text of the anti-blockade law was finally published after it had been passed. It is important to stress that during the constituent deputy’s session, which debated the law’s articles and was finally televised (1), it was confirmed that the 1999 Constitution is the superior legal framework. This means that the so-called constituent laws [including the anti-blockade law] do not overrule the Magna Carta, nor can they contravene it or modify it.
During the debate, it was also made clear that [the state-run oil company] Petróleos de Venezuela (PSDVSA) will not be privatised and that full sovereignty over hydrocarbons and other natural resources will not be given up. It is very important that this has been stated in a plenary session, since the minutes of the session embody the spirit of the constituent deputies and become a base for future juridical proceedings.
With regard to the text, it must be acknowledged that many of its articles are necessary instruments which, in order to restore the rights of the population to living wages, food and public services, must allow the government to manoeuvre amid the criminal financial and commercial blockade that has been illegally imposed on the country.
Articles such as 26, 27 and 29 empower the government to change the administration and management of state companies and facilitate and promote the participation of the private sector in these and throughout the economy in general.
We will have to wait to see the specific government plans in order to assess whether they point, as it appears to be the case, to a shift away from one of the fundamentals of Chavismo: the safeguarding of national property in the hands of the State. However, we should acknowledge that Chavismo has always recognised the role of private enterprise. This is done without undermining state property nor the role of the state itself in the economy.
This debate, which came about due to the sheer strength of public opinion, has shown the disposition of ample sectors of Chavismo to defend the founding principles of the Bolivarian revolution, historical flags of patriotic sentiment and left and revolutionary popular movements in Venezuela.
“Oil patriotism,” public ownership of our resources and the 1999 Constitution are principles which we will never give up, and beyond the current circumstances imposed on us by foreign aggression, we will bring them back tomorrow as we did when Commander Chavez was at the helm.
I congratulate the brave companions who led this struggle and motivated the debate. They didn’t let themselves be scared off by the mumblings of bad conscience of those who have no arguments and only use insults, crude blackmail and mockery.
Those who lead a political project must be responsible for maintaining unity. Humility, correct leadership methods and willingness to convince without imposition are key to keeping together and motivating a force that faces the most dangerous foreign aggression of modern times.
Gradually, step by step, the path is becoming clear. The people cannot be defeated! Chavez lives, the struggle goes on until the final victory!
(1) It is standard practice to televise ANC plenary sessions in Venezuela. However, an initial decision from state TV to not televise the anti-blockade law debate provoked outrage from many sectors, forcing decision-makers to backtrack.
Elias Jaua is a former vice president of Venezuela and held posts including minister for education, communes, agriculture, as well as foreign relations minister during the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. He is a member of the national leadership of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.