November 3, 2007
With boisterous chants of "No to the Reform," Venezuela's
opposition kicked off its campaign today against the Venezuelan Constitutional
Reform, in an impressive demonstration of thousands on Victoria Avenue, just south of the
Central Venezuelan University (UCV) in Caracas.
"The Commitment to Victory" demonstration was convoked by
the Comando Nacional de la Resistencia
(National Resistance Command - CNR) and supported by various opposition parties
including, Acción Democrática (AD), Alianza Bravo Pueblo (ABP), and Bandera Roja (BR).
Hermann Escarrá, one of the members of the two-year-old CNR
and a member of the Constitutional Assembly which wrote the 1999 Constitution,
said before the crowd of thousands today, "I want to begin by saying that here
truly is all of the opposition."
The opposition has remained fairly divided over how to react
to Chavez' Constitutional Reform. The
CNR and the parties represented at today's demonstration called for followers
not to vote in the referendum, but to get out in the streets to put an end to
"We know and we applaud those sectors that had been
continuing this useless debate about whether or not to vote - their bases,
their youth, their women, their flags, are beginning to say strongly throughout
the nation, that this is not about whether or not to vote, it is about impeding
[the reform], it is about getting out in the streets, it is about restoring the
ethical and moral order of the Republic," Escarrá continued.
Three of the most important opposition parties, however, Primero Justicia (PJ), Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) and the Christian
Democrat party, COPEI, have called on
the people to go to the polls and vote, "No".
However, most of those in the crowd today, regardless of
their political affiliation, were adamantly against even a vote on the
"We are protesting, not just against the content, but
against the reform itself. I think that
it is a completely unconstitutional reform, and whatever the content may be,
the simple fact of being unconstitutional changes everything," said Denis
Gomez, an engineer from Western Caracas, "Since it's an unconstitutional
reform, I'm not going to vote. Complete
abstention, and as Escarrá proposes, the rebellion continues."
Escarrá and other have held that the present reform proposal
is unconstitutional because it violates the "democratic principles of the 1999
Constitution." They point specifically
to article 342 of current Constitution, which states that "the Constitutional
Reform has the objective of a partial revision of this Constitution and the
substitution of one or various of the norms that does not modify the
fundamental structure and principles of the constitutional text."
President Hugo Chavez, members of the National Assembly and
those in favor of the reform say that the partial alteration of the 69-out of a
total of 350-articles does not alter the "fundamental structure or principles,"
and that the changes actually increase democracy and popular power.
Protests are planned over the next month in the lead-up to
the December 2nd, Constitutional Reform Nationwide Referendum. During the demonstration, organizers
announced a march to take place on Friday, November 9th, and
unveiled a plan for a "March Without Return" to take place at the end of
November, when protestors will head to the streets and "not return home"
Today's demonstration is the third over the last two weeks
against the reform. Students from the
Andrés Bello Catholic University, the UCV, and other universities have marched
twice over the last two weeks to the National Assembly and then to the National
Electoral Council (CNE), to ask the governmental bodies to delay the reform for
three months so that the Venezuelan people will have adequate time to become
informed about its content. Both events
registered violent clashes with the Caracas Metropolitan Police Force, who used
tear gas and water cannons last Wednesday to disperse the crowds after they
were attacked with rocks and bottles.
The same day, a delegation of students inside the CNE attempted to chain
themselves to the stairwell. In recent
days, student marches have also taken place elsewhere across Venezuela.
Students have called for another march to take place this
coming Wednesday, to Venezuela's
Supreme Court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), where they plan to
deliver a document calling for an injunction to stop the December 2nd
Today's demonstration comes just a day after the National
Assembly officially passed the 69 reformed articles out of its legislative body
and delivered them to the CNE. The
Electoral Council is preparing for a referendum on the reforms to take place on
The reforms, which Chavez says are necessary to move towards
21st Century Socialism, deal with a wide variety of topics from
lowering the workweek to 36 hours, to prohibiting against discrimination based
on health and sexual orientation. One of
the most controversial of the article reforms would remove the two-term limit
"A dictatorship can't survive with the Socialist system that
he's trying to implant," said Richard Gonzalez, a radical opposition activist at
today's march, "and the people don't want either one or the other. So we are going to get in the streets and if
we have to give our lives for our children or for our homeland, than we are
going to do it, but we aren't going to tolerate a Marxist, Leninst, Cubanist
Pro-Chavez supporters will launch their campaign in
support of the reforms in a march tomorrow in Venezuela's