Thursday, September 16, 2004

ESTABLISHING AN AUTHORITARIAN REGIME IN VENEZUELA

The "how to" manual

Now that allegedly Chavez has 60% of the Venezuelan people behind him, he is doing what any self respecting autocrat does: ensure that he will stay there for ever and ever. One can only admire the process and methodology behind it.

It all started during Chavez coronation a few days after the August 15 plebiscite. In one of his speeches that day he said that after 5 years it might be time to review the constitution.

Promptly two of the most notorious lackeys of Chavez in the National Assembly, NA, our local version of "power Couple", Cilia Flores and Nicolas Maduro (who does not even dare to list his curriculum in the National Assembly roster) chimed that indeed Chavez should be allowed more than one reelection. Flattery was pushed further when Maduro said that the referendum results should grant three more years for Chavez in office, just like that, because of all the time that the opposition made him waste.

This morning Gerardo Blyde comes on TV to show the booklet of 21 (that is right, twenty one!) constitutional modifications that Luis Velazquez proposed to the NA yesterday (1). To be fair I should point that he did not benefit of the universal approbation of his own brethren at the assembly. Whether that "dissent" was posturing or sincere is irrelevant, we all know that Chavez will soon bring order into the chicken coop.

Of course, the first irony is that changes to "the most perfect constitution in the world" are asked (demanded?) by the one that kept vaunting its glories urbi et orbi (quoted words from El Supremo himself in countless opportunities, as one could be forgiven to wonder if he carries the ubiquitous little blue book even to the toilet).

So, what was a simple commentary in barely three weeks became a nicely printed large pastel blue booklet, keeping of course in tone with the other book. All very spontaneous, I am certain.

I have not been able to find the latest best seller form the NA print on line, but I did find a newspaper summary. Here a few highlights with my very own interpretation:

The NA will now be able to approve constitutional laws with a simple majority if after three votes it fails to get the constitutional consensus of 2/3. That 2/3 number was required to name justices, CNE, special enabling laws, and some other basic laws that usually are the frame of reference for the day to day laws (for example how to organize the judicial power should be voted by 2/3 but the crimes judged can be voted by simple majority). This is very clever because it gives the appearance of democracy and consultation when in fact all is decided in advance and it takes only an extra month of pseudo debate to approve what the executive wants. With a rigged electoral system it should not be a problem to always have a one seat majority in the NA, to do as one pleases and to show the world the 49% of the opposition screaming ineffectively as minority rights, the bases of ANY democratic system, happily trampled by El Supremo.

The provision of only one reelection for the president will be suppressed (what about mayors and governor indefinite reelection?). Now we know why Chavez has been speaking to say until 2021. Well, we always knew he would pull that trick at some point. Now it is official.

The NA would now be elected for 6 years, instead of 5, and at the same time as the president. Clearly, we will now "elect" our dictator for 6 years. Not to mention that it might be a way to lure some in the opposition by promising them reelection for a 6 year sinecure.

Now we will need to gather 30% of the signatures to call for a Recall Election, instead of the 20%. Obviously once elected for a new 6 year term, Chavez does not want any more surprises. With an artificially fattened electoral roll, and adequate pressures, and a CNE invalidating half of the signatures under any pretense, the opposition would need, what?, 60% of the people to sign up?

I can hardly wait for the other proposed modifications. Unless this is all a cheap provocation to distract from the electoral fraud debate (2). But somehow, I suspect that indeed they mean it even as they do not think they can get away with it. Yet.

I have simple questions: what kind of democracy is this scaffolding? Where is the protection of minorities against one man rule? Is this the blue print for XXI century autocratic regimes? Who is next?

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1- representative Velazquez has made a career within chavismo to explain the unexplainable and sponsor the unsponsorable. His latest hit was writing single handedly the new Judicial Power law that has given control of the judiciary to the executive and legislative, that is, Chavez himself. With this new initiative that he is careful to sign with his name alone, as seen on the book cover, he should ingratiate himself a little bit more with El Supremo.

2- Representative Velazquez, incidentally, wants a seat in the High Court but apparently he does not benefit from the support he wishes for. That could also be a way to indicate to El Supremo that all his rulings would be predictable. Sycophancy has become now a well established tradition in chavismo.

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