Caracas, August 17, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) – On August 15, the third anniversary of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s victory in the recall referendum of 2004, and the 202nd anniversary of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar’s famous oath of Monte Sacro, where he swore not to rest “until the chains of oppression are lifted from my people,” tens of thousands of Venezuelans turned out to an extraordinary session of National Assembly to hear the president’s proposed constitutional reform.
Recounting the experiences and achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution over the last eight years, including the Constituent Assembly and referendum of 1999, which founded the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the opposition military coup on April 11th, 2002 and its “victorious defeat” on April 13th and the oil industry lockout which nearly crippled the Venezuelan economy in early 2003, Chavez confessed, “I am emotional today, because I believe this proposal will open doors to a new era.”
The 1999 constitution was “ambiguous” he said “a product of that moment. The world is very different today than 1999.” The new constitutional reforms are “essential for continuing the process of revolutionary transition,” he assured.
New Geometry of Power
Outlining his far-reaching proposal for transforming the Venezuelan state, Chavez called for “a new geometry of power.” Key to this is an amendment to article 16 in the constitution, which states; “The national territory is divided into states, the Capital District, federal dependencies and federal territories. The territory is organized in Municipalities” to be replaced by; “The territorial political division will be determined by the organic law that guarantees municipal autonomy and political decentralization.”
Declaring that, “regionalism, is dogma, that impedes change, [and] we can not accept situations that create Caudillos,” he said the new law would allow for the creation, through popular referendum, of “federal districts” in specific areas, which could then be categorized as states and assigned all or part of the respective territory.
This proposal, he maintained, is “profoundly revolutionary,” and necessary “to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony, the old society, and, in the words of Gramsci, to weaken the old “historic block.” “If we don’t change the superstructure, the old superstructure will defeat us,” he continued.
The proposal also allows municipalities, “with the acceptance of the people within the municipality,” to create territory or land in common, which would be under the direct government of the community and, according to Chavez, would constitute “the basic nucleus of the socialist state.”
Chavez also said unions or federations of self-governing communes, could be created through popular referendum, through the communal councils, and aggregations of communal councils.
Additionally, through the incorporation of the social missions into the constitution, “functional districts,” could be also be created by one or more municipalities, where the social missions would function as alternative administrations to the traditional bureaucratic institutions.
Chavez declared it was necessary to re-order the country in view of increasing population growth, saying, “one day Venezuela will have 40-50 million people.”
In light of this, he argued it was also necessary to “restructure Caracas,” in terms of urban development, construction of roads, environmental recuperation and measures to achieve the optimal levels of public and personal security, strengthen systems of health, education, sport and culture, as well as the formation of small and medium satellite cities.
Another key aspect of the “new geometry of power” would be the ability of the president to declare special military zones in any part of the country with the strategic aim of defense, and decree special authorities in situations of contingency such as natural disasters.
In addition to the previously existing “public powers” recognized in the constitution such as the judiciary, legislative, executive and so on, Chavez also called for the incorporation of “popular power” into article 70, saying there was a need to decentralize and transfer power to the organized communities to create the best conditions for socialist democracy.
Article 70, Chavez assured, would also “reaffirm means of participation and protagonism of the people in direct exercise of their sovereignty for the construction of socialism,” through election to public positions, referendums, popular consultation, recall of elected officials (including the president), constitutional legislative initiatives, and open assemblies.
“Sovereignty rests with the people,” Chavez continued, “and should be exercised directly through the organs of popular power.” According to Chavez, popular power would be expressed through “the organized communities,” in various forms such as the communes, self-government of the towns and cities, the communal councils, workers councils, campesino councils, student councils, and others councils indicated in the law.
In a move vehemently opposed by Venezuelan opposition parties, Chavez also proposed an amendment to article 203, which would allow for unlimited presidential re-elections, (countries such as France, Australia, Germany, and England allow for unlimited reelection), a move the opposition claims would lead to ‘dictatorship’. The proposed change would also extend presidential terms from six to seven years.
According Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Rodriguez, the opposition campaign against unlimited reelections is not out of concern for ‘democracy’, given that they supported a military coup against Chavez’s democratically elected government in 2002, but rather a tacit recognition of their inability to compete with Chavez in the electoral sphere.
However, as with all other aspects of the constitutional reform, which are required to be ratified through a popular referendum, Chavez affirmed that “reelection is the sovereign decision of the constituent people of Venezuela.”
Social and Cultural Rights
Chavez also called for the revision of article 100, to recognize Venezuela as a product of a diverse historical confluence of cultures and recommended the implementation of programs to promote equality for indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent. Additionally, proposed alterations to article 87 (which relates to social rights and rights of the family), would guarantee the right to work and promote the development of policies to generate productive employment. The state would also create a Social Stability Fund for ‘non-dependent’ or self employed workers such as taxi drivers, fishermen, and artisans, among others, to guarantee them the same fundamental rights as other workers such as retirement pensions, paid vacations and prenatal and postnatal leave entitlements.
The proposal calls for the constitution to promote a diverse and independent mixed economy to guarantee the social necessities of the people. While article 115 would continue to recognize and guarantee different forms of property, including private property, it would promote the development of social production and social property including direct/communal social property and indirect/state managed social property.
Chavez also called for the promotion and self-management of communal property, communal micro-financing organizations, cooperatives of communal property (which he distinguished from capitalist cooperatives) communal savings banks, networks of free associated producers, voluntary work, and community businesses as mechanisms toward the implementation of a new social system.
While monopolies would be banned under article 102, the following modification of article 302 would guarantee state control over the oil industry, closing off any potential loophole that would allow privatization of this resource; “The State reserves, for reasons of sovereignty, development and the national interest, the activity of exploitation of liquid, solid, and gaseous hydrocarbons as well as the exploitation of goods and services of public interest and strategic character.”
Other key changes in the economic sphere include the removal of “any vestige of autonomy” for the Central Bank of Venezuela and the elimination of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund under articles 318 and 321. Chavez has previously described the autonomy of the BCV as “a neoliberal idea.”
Chavez also plans to modify article 90 of the constitution to reduce the workday from eight hours to six, saying, the objective is that workers have sufficient time for integral and moral development of their personality, for participation, education, spiritual and recreational pursuits.
The reduction of the workday, he argued, would oblige businesses to open new shifts and therefore increase levels of permanent and productive employment, allowing time for volunteer work and contribute to the reduction of the informal economy and unemployment currently at 8 per cent.
Redefining the Military
Chavez also proposed a redefinition of the role of the military through a modification of article 328, which currently states “The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially professional institution, politically unaligned, organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation.”
This would be replaced by, “The Bolivarian Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist body organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation” and the “application of principles of integral military defense and popular resistance war”
Declaring that “the old structure of the Reserves had many legal, structural and financial limitations,” Chavez proposed the amendment of article 329 to transform the Reserves into the Popular Bolivarian Militia constituted as the fifth official component of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, alongside the Bolivarian Army, the Bolivarian Navy, the Bolivarian Air Force, and the Bolivarian Territorial Guard (currently the National Guard). The role of the Territorial Guard would be integrated with other components of the armed forces. “The said bodies would be structured in combined garrison units, combined training units and combined units for joint operations,” signifying the “fusion” of the Armed Forces, he explained.
Summarizing his proposal as follows, “In the political terrain, the deepening of popular Bolivarian democracy; in the economy, the preparation for the best conditions for the construction of a socialist production model; in the field of public administration; incorporation of new structures to leave behind bureaucracy; in social matters, to increase the rights of workers in all imaginable spheres, and in the cultural the inclusion of our peoples of indigenous and African descent, the deepening of our anti-imperialist and patriotic consciousness,” Chavez called for a “grand debate in all areas of society.”
“Some pollsters try to manipulate public opinion, formulating questions such as “do you support democracy or socialism?” “But the people aren’t stupid. Only through socialism can you construct true democracy,” added Chavez.
The proposed constitutional reform, which aims to change 33 articles, or approximately 10% of the 1999 constitution, is set to be debated in three extraordinary sessions of the National Assembly over the next two-three months before going to a popular referendum.