Monday, December 15, 2003

FOUR YEARS AFTER VARGAS
A national disaster and a new flawed constitution.

Monday 15, December 2003

It was four years ago that the mountain rolled down on Caracas playground, the Caribbean shores 30 minutes away from Caracas, the state of Vargas. Thousand of people died, either killed by the rolling stones, drowned in the seas or the swollen streams. The images were horrific, the country marked.

Recovery hopes were not good from the beginning when in a show of infantile nationalism Chavez refused the help of the US, help already on its way and promptly stopped at sea. The administration bragged of recovering Vargas in a couple of years. Today barely the road grid has been restored. Thousand of Vargas residents are still spread all around the country, some still in refugee camps of sorts.

But if Vargas is one of the flagship failures of Chavez administration, my main grip with it is the lack of imagination in recovering a wasted area and bringing it to a glittering future. The Vargas shore had become a mostly an over-urbanized area, where most beaches were too polluted for swimming. A good urban planning, mixing private resorts and public access areas could have provided enough income to provide for water treatment plants, organized housing and what not. But privatizing part of Vargas was too much for the Chavez crowd, who probably were happy to see that the few existing private resorts were battered badly. Interestingly, with little if any governmental help some of these private resorts have recovered better than some of the public areas that were supposed to be fully recovered by now. But a government that has not been able to recover all of the residential areas cannot be expected to recover either the beach areas or even the torrent control system.

Incidentally December 15 is also the date for the referendum that approved the Bolivarian Constitution. The least that we can say is that the fate of the constitution has not been much better than the fate of Vargas. Though at least Vargas seems on the way up, albeit slowly.

The 1999 document is in my opinion flawed. For one thing the Constitutional assembly had until January 30, 2000, to approve and send the constitution to vote. But Chavez was prey to the millennial folly and wanted “his” constitution to welcome the new millenium. As a consequence the constitutional debate was rushed and many flaws starting to appear now might have been avoided with a few more weeks of debate and proof reading. But Chavez did not care, by late November he had obtained what he wanted, a six year term with re-election for another 6 years, the power to control the military promotions, the power to remove and renew most of the judiciary and other institutions. The rest were just details that he could not be bothered with. Voting while flooding was happening every where was already criticized. Nevertheless Chavez even invoked the words of Bolivar defying nature and the vote took place the day he said. Now tragedy for ever is marked on the birth date of the constitution.

The constitution was approved with 70 % yeah and at least 40% abstention. 42% of Venezuelans at most felt motivated enough to vote for Chavez, rather than for a document that most had not read since it was published a very few days before the vote. But Chavez was riding high these days. Nobody cared. Except for an almost 20% who cared to make that 30% that voted no, abstention correction made. This was up quite a lot from the April referendum where only 10% voted no, which with more than a 50% abstention, made less than 5% of the actual population. I was in that 5%. Thus in barely 8 month Chavez had managed to quadruple his staunchest opponents. Today the number could be as high as 50% of the country and hopefully we will know that soon.

Indeed, Chavez has little to celebrate today, and instead of memorials, or re-openings or even constitutional celebration he is touring the Army barracks trying to convince them that the opposition did commit fraud, trying to convince them to join him in an adventure. Maybe the opposition did commit fraud, but it is a sad spectacle to see a president that once had a lofty 80% rating to fight a ridiculous fight for survival. Ecce homo.

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