Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Venezuelan autocracy: building it up (final: a constitutional conclusion?)

Amazingly Hugo Chavez has decided that an extensive constitutional reform is just what the doctor prescribed for Venezuela. All the different implications of the 1999 constitution are far from being established yet and some have not even been touched. The complete chapter V, for example, has been totally ignored so far. Then again convocation of a "Consejo Federal de Gobierno" could have only rested power to Chavez, not to mention competing for the public's attention, a no-no for that showman who wants to be alone on stage. But that does not matter, the constitution, we are told, needs a major overhaul.

What we have been seeing in the previous 3 posts will be at the core of what the proposed constitutional changes will be. In fact, the scope of the promised changes is so extensive that we can even use the term new constitution even as Chavez pretends to pass it as “reform”. But when the reforms to a constitution reach perhaps more than half the articles, can we recognize the old constitution? Would it not be more productive, more decent, to just call for a new constitutional assembly and have everyone’s say in the matter? Instead we will have Chavez proposals discussed in “petit comité”. So much for “participatory democracy”.

It is amusing to remember that the 1999 charter was seen by their supporters as the “best constitution ever, an example for all to follow”. Now, these same people who barely 7 years ago swore by that document are now the ones promoting a major revamp, if not an outright rewriting just because the big chief has decided to change the country to a socialist bolivarian popular republic with all the ominous implications that this carries (should I call it from now on the Sobolibanana Republic? With a stress on the “so” obviously). At no point these folks think, ponder, consider, that these required changes must be done because the constitution of 1999 was, to begin with, an ill drafted instrument. It never occurs to them that it is also because Chavez has been so busy bringing down institutions while been careful not to build new ones, that the charter of 1999 has become a hindrance to himself.

We can muse upon this truth that constitutions are only as good as the people who apply them. In the opinion of this blogger the 1999 blue book was unworkable even before it was subjected to vote. In Venezuela not only we got a rather deficient piece of paper, but we have flawed people applying it. No wonder it requires changes even if we all know very well that the same flawed people will pretend to apply whatever is voted sometime later this year. Eventually they will turn it into yet another useless document. Is it idle to remind the reader that the US constitution has barely a couple of dozens amendments, and has been lasting now for over 200 years helping the creation of the most prosperous society in human history? Or that England has no constitution? Or that France who has had truly 5 republics changed its constitution only two times the last century while Chavez did it twice in seven years?

Because this is the core of the problem, these constitutional changes are useless. They are done because, again and again it must be repeated, Chavez needs to demonstrate permanently that he is the boss. He cannot deliver roads, decent housing, real medical care, autosufficiency in food production, stable currency, political stability, real jobs with real wages. So he brings out a new constitution in the hope that for a while people will rather discuss that than the empty shelves at MERCAL.

Along the way he will manage to introduce indefinite reelection, for life reelection, he will get even more control over different state appointments by removing many elected offices, he will reduce any opposition to just what he needs to pretend Venezuela is a democracy, he will enshrine all sorts of regulations to limit the freedom of expression, he will control the economy in a way that not even Gomez managed. In other words we will reach 2008 with Chavez controlling everything, in a way that no dictator ever controlled. Perhaps all legal, but all without any legitimacy as his own supporters will not have been consulted, as 40% of the country will not have been allowed to even present its case.

That new constitution manipulation is a farce, a farce in very bad taste. It will be drawn in an ocean of corruption. The nationalizations that it will justify will result in handing to the chavista mafia profitable companies that will be ransacked, made useless, scavenged for any bit of money that corruption can get out of them. Already the directions of AES and CANTV are packing their desks and workers are wearing red shirts to try to save their jobs. There was a time where the worker of these companies would have gone on strike to defend their works as Tascon is about to sweep in. But these days they do not care, ready to sell their soul to keep their job. And one expect these people to even have an opinion on what would an appropriate constitutional change be? The paradox here, and the measure of Chavez great success in killing the democratic spirit of Venezuela, is that a constitutional debate which should be the great feast of a democracy is nothing more than a monologue from the autocrat with nobody really caring about what is said.

Eventually we will get a totally dysfunctional state where nothing works. Eventually Chavez will be ousted or killed or dead and then globalized transnationals will be called in to buy for cheap whatever is left. They will be associated with the surviving mafia that will claim innocence of the past while inheriting it. We will be a new Russia, because we will not be a new China. These people who today serve Chavez lackadaisically, without an ounce of shame will turn on him when necessary, will save their chips and will once again sell the country to whomever pays them the most. With yet another constitution if necessary.

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