The first striking element is that all the constitutional changes to be proposed have been discussed secretly by a hand picked “commission” of die hard chavistas, those that owe everything to Chavez, those who, without Chavez, would be relegated to some obscure teaching position somewhere or to some back room of some second rate law firm.
And to add insult to injury, in a stunning show of low self esteem, they gave their “report” to Chavez saying that it did not matter at all anyway, that Chavez will rewrite their proposal as he pleases, decide on what he wants to go or not to go in a proposed referendum. Thus we hear the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela declaring without blinking that she just waits for the final decisions of Chavez to start the debate. That is right, you read it well, the N.A. will debate when Chavez tells it to do so. Not that there would be much of a debate in a monochromatic assembly. Perhaps this abandon it is part of the strategy, to trivialize those changes, to make it easier for the masses to vote for them because they were not important enough for the N.A, to discuss them.
It is not idle to remind that some of the greatest and longest working constitutions of history followed a long, protracted, national debate. The United States took several months in Philadelphia to finally settle the basic issues and vote its constitution, which to date is the longest serving one and seems to have a few good years ahead. In France the constitution that served the longest was also issue from another long and protracted debate between a royalist chamber that sat down with the Republican strong minority. They reached a compromise in 1871 that died only when Hitler invaded France in 1940. Even though, the historical weight of that 1871 document carried through the constitution that served from 1946 through 1958 where finally it was modified more than changed to create the current constitution that has maintained all the political figures and interplays of 1871, limiting itself to shift some of the power among institutions. We can add more examples of national debates that yielded stable constitutions to very complex societies such as Canada or India.
And I will not even go into the agonizing process to add an amendment to the US constitution!!! To pass quickly a US amendment MUST HAVE strong bipartisan support, which should be the case in 90% of constitutional changes in any place in the world. In fact I could point out to a recent example in France when the presidential term was reduced to 5 years and which was supported by the socialist prime minister and the right wing sitting president. By the way, I voted no to that referendum because it would have increased the presidential nature of the system and the more time goes, the more of a parliamentarian system supporter I become.
In Venezuela what we had was a group of mediocrities who in 1999 rushed through a constitution proposal coming already from Chavez. The lone 4 opposition members held a brilliant fight which showed up in their out of proportion effect on the final draft. One could say that they avoided some of the worst provisions by allying themselves with the rare chavista assemblymen that actually knew something about constitutional law. Yet at the end they voted against the 1999 document and campaigned against it. We sadly observe that many of their predictions came to pass.
Thus we can be certain that these coming reforms, decided in secret and that will be submitted to the briefest of public scrutiny, will yield what will amount to a new constitution, and possibly the worst one of our history.
The paradox is thus that the 1999 constitution which was supposed to be participatory and offer front stage to the people has now been reduced to a small group of participants with only one of them occupying the front stage. And you want me to be optimistic about the changes coming from that set up?
At any rate, once Chavez makes up his mind as to what is politically expedient to ensure his reelection wishes, the project will be unveiled. The National Assembly will do some “street parliamentarism” which is their excuse for not needing opposition representation in the parliament. That is, they hold some open air assemblies with “el pueblo” where a suitable numerous of red shirted folks make sure that few from the opposition will dare to show their faces. In case some opposition figure manages to break the access lock, his or her comments will be duly registered and submitted to vote to some commission. You can of course imagine that such commission is extremely unlikely to pass any constitutional recommendation to the N.A. floor that might go against Chavez wishes. The possibility that the opposition to Chavez might have any effect on the proposal is "statistically insignificant", as we could euphemistically state.
In other words, as far as I am concerned we should go directly from Chavez wishes to elections. But since Chavez is not quite sure of the county’s mood he will need that fake discussion. Why? Because as long as people discuss the different issues proposed, the less they will be questioning the only one that matters: Chavez in 2012! And in 2018! And in 2026!
Thus under the excuse of a final “people’s choice” referendum we are in fact assisting to one of the least democratic examples of constitutional changes that we have ever witnessed. But with the power of propaganda, bought media and short attention span of the people, many will find the whole affair sensible.
Oh well…… We might as well look at the proposals in a next installment.