In homage to the great 19th century revolutionary leader, Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan National Assembly held a special session on Tuesday to commemorate the 192nd anniversary of the seminal Angostura Congress, a constitutional convention that laid the political foundations for much of South America’s independence from Spain.
The session took place in the modern day city of Ciudad Bolivar, formerly known as Angostura del Orinoco, just outside the site where the Congress was convened on February 15, 1819. The keynote address for the act on Tuesday was delivered by General Henry Rangel Silva, Chief of Venezuela’s Strategic Operational Command who spoke of the importance of linking the pivotal historical event with the virtue of its wider political and social project.
“This new anniversary should not exist only to remember the past with nostalgia. It should be seen, rather, from the greatness of Venezuela celebrates historical date, opposition boycotts its purpose – the birth of liberty, equality, justice and love for the homeland”, he declared.
Road to Democracy
In 1819, the Venezuelan-born Simon Bolivar called for a constitutional assembly comprised of republican leaders from across South American territories still at war with Spain to begin drafting a representative democracy to replace the fading colonial rule.
During the Angostura Congress, Bolivar was given the title of “Liberator” for his leading role in the struggle against the Spanish empire and delivered one of his most remembered speeches, outlining his vision for a new political system.
In his remarks, the 36-year old General Bolivar stressed the need for a separation of powers and postulated that the most perfect government “is that which produces the greatest amount of happiness possible, the greatest amount of social security and the greatest amount of political stability”.
His speech is also remembered for its emphasis on popular education and the famous statement, “An ignorant populace is the blind instrument of its own destruction”.
Francisco Gomez, Governor of the state of Bolivar, highlighted the similarities between the policies of the current administration of Hugo Chavez and the ideals of the Liberator.
“[They] have a lot to do with the [revolutionary] process led by President Chavez”, Gomez said of Bolivar’s ideals and objectives.
“It was the ﬁrst time that the importance of education was related to liberation”, recalled Gomez in reference to Bolivar’s speech.
The current democratic process led by President Chavez is known as the “Bolivarian Revolution”, based on the ideals and values of Simon Bolivar and his vision for an integrated Latin America with strong roots of social justice and equality.
The conservative opposition, led by the political coalition known as the Democratic Roundtable (MUD), made a collective decision to not attend the commemorative ceremony which, according to National Assembly President Soto Rojas, was intended solely to celebrate the most important ﬁgure in Venezuela’s history.
The decision was taken as a protest against the keynote speaker, General Silva, who the opposition accuse of pledging political allegiance to President Chavez in violation of article 328 of the nation’s constitution, which forbids political stances taken by military ofﬁcials.
“For a session that is going to commemorate what happened in the Angostura Congress, they [the National Assembly] have chosen a speaker who does not represent the values or the motives that inspired this Congress”, said opposition congressman Omar Barboza.
Government backers have been quick to point out that it was the right-wing Venezuelan opposition that colluded with renegade generals in 2002 to stage a bloody coup d’etat against the democratically elected President Hugo Chavez.
For Pastora Leon, opposition supporter, the decision of the conservative lawmakers to not attend the special congressional session was tantamount to an abandonment of their duties as elected representatives.
“I’m deeply disappointed with the opposition for not going to the National Assembly’s special session. Be it a cat or a dog that’s the speaker, congressman have to be there because that is why we elected you – so you can represent us”, Leon said during a call-in television show on the opposition station Globovision.
In 2005, the Venezuelan opposition also boycotted congressional elections, thereby ceding control of the national legislature to supporters of President Chavez. This control was then used to uphold the thesis that Venezuela had become a “dictatorship”.
Last September, the opposition participated in legislative elections and won 40% of seats in the National Assembly. The pro-Chavez PSUV party still holds a solid majority at 60%.