The news today is without doubt the start of a legislative coup by the National Assembly of Venezuela. If they get away with it, any pretense of democracy in Venezuela will be done for, once and for all.
To the constitutional changes proposed by Chavez, 33 articles by themselves, the National Assembly, N.A., "select" committee has decided to add at least two dozen more articles (and the list may grow by Monday). This addition was done today, behind closed doors, by a small commission of the N.A. The secretive and sudden incorporation of these articles was managed by a very small group of the Assembly within that already small committee since some of the representatives siting in that group voted against the inclusion! The good news today would be that there are still some chavistas out there that will just not accept anything thrown at them. Not much comfort anyway, and probably way too late.
Let's try to go by parts so the reader can try to understand this rather unexpected event (but not surprising after all, just a matter of timing if you ask this blogger).
Why is this a legislative coup d'etat?
The nature of the coup resides in two aspect : the manner in which the new constitutional changes are imposed on Venezuela, and the nature of those changes. These ones will be discussed next and here we will just look at the operation itself.
The 33 articles proposed by Chavez for modification last August 15 are being discussed in a rush, but according to legal planning. That is, there must be three rounds of discussion before the final approval by the N.A. Only then can a ratification referendum be called. The 1999 constitution previews up to two years of discussion for the N.A. Many people have complained that the two months schedule to approve the changes was too short, and certainly too short a time for Venezuelans to get an opinion about such a complex constitutional change. To hold a referendum on December 2, the target date by Chavez, the constitutional changes must be validates by the N.A by October 31. That would have given barely over two months for people to access the document and read it once. Much less to discuss it. All serious opinion polls concur: to date a majority of Venezuelans have no idea what is going on, have not read the proposed changes, do not understand them, are confused and what not. However all opinion polls also concur that the more people read and reflect on the proposed changes the less likely they are to look at them favorably, or vote for them.
Hence the hurry of the government to get done with the constitutional changes.
But if this situation per se is already bad enough, what happened today is a direct violation of the norms that the N.A. had imposed itself to review the Chavez proposal. The N.A. simply is trying to include many articles that will not "benefit" of the 3 discussion scrutiny that the Chavez articles obtained. In fact, these new additions will not even have the time to reach some of these public shows of discussion that the other proposed modifications received (and it is of public knowledge the treatment received by any dissenting voice that tried to participate in those alleged debates). That is, they will reach the referendum day with perhaps 80% (or more?) of the country not having even read these newly included articles (how many readers of this blog have actually read the few articles proposed for review by this blog's guests?).
Let's not be afraid of words: the National Assembly of Venezuela is trying to change many articles of the constitution without any debate, by putting these changes as a rider on the Chavez proposal. This is undemocratic, illegal, anti-constitutional. A coup d'état, simply.
What brings this legislative coup d'état?
It is too early to describe the whole nature of the changes. To begin with it is so fresh that they have not been published. However we have the declarations of some of the representatives when they left the reunion where the discussion (?) and approval was made.
Right now the best documented change case is on article 337 which regulates the state of exceptions or national emergencies. In a great advance of the 1999 constitution, one of the few things that I approved in that constitution, was that no matter how a government decided it must deal with a given emergency, political or natural, it could not curtail the right to information. That was essential because it would limit any abuses that a government might want to do. When information is present you can for example be rough when you arrest looters or terrorist but you cannot just execute them summarily in front of TV cameras. By removing the right to information ALL THE DURATION OF AN EMERGENCY, the Chavez regime is preparing itself to proceed to human rights violations whenever it needs, without the indiscreet cameras of CNN watching.
But if this was not bad enough, the right to due process apparently will also be removed from article 337. That is, not only the government will be able to ban CNN form trouble areas but it will be allowed to dispose of citizens it does not like at will for the duration of the emergency period. When we see at all the people that died because of Chavez in 1992 I need not explain to you why this is the beginning of a repressive regime, how grave and dramatic the situation has suddenly turned in Venezuela.
And what was the reply of the government after some of its allies stormed out the meeting and the opposition started to complain? Cilia Flores, the N.A. boss, and who in reality is not much more than a lawyer/secretary for Chavez said that those who will be defending article 337 old draft are those who are planning to conspire against the Venezuelan government. That is right, by typing these words I am acknowledging that I am plotting to destroy the Venezuelan state, to kill Chavez, to open the doors of PDVSA to US oil companies and what not.
I an hardly wait to read about the other articles included in this N.A. "reforma".
A coup is a coup, is a coup
At this point it is important to bring to memory that for the last 5 years chavismo mantra to justify all the abuses that it has been committing has been "because of the coup of April 11 2002". Since that April week, any dissenting voice has been termed "golpista" and that was that, no need to listen to them.
Long time readers of this blog know that for me the coup was not April 11, and if there was any coup then it was due to the order of Chavez to the army to shot at the crowds, by convoking the "plan Avila" a repressive anti riot army regulation. The army refused to obey and Chavez not being able to arrest generals refusing to obey inconceivable and inhumane orders had to resign. That was announced live on TV in the night of April 11 to April 12 by the army chief of staff Rincon.
The real April coup took place after Rincon announcement when a small group of hoodlums led by Carmona Estanga profited of a moment of confusion when no one knew what to do. Stunned at the ease in which Chavez had lost power, nobody knew what to do and Carmona bold move succeeded. Not for long, by April 12 in the evening grumblings were already heard such as when the CTV head, Carlos Ortega refused to avail the self enthroning decree of Carmona. By the morning of Saturday 13 a strong group within the army decided to bring back Chavez in a counter coup and that was the end of the adventure. The Carmona decree never made it even to the official journal presses which means that legally the Carmona regime never existed.
What did that decree said? All major official office holder of the regime were replaced and new elections were to be hold for a new constitution discussion and a new president, within one year. Carmona could NOT participate in those elections.
Now, considering the constitutional changes that Chavez is promoting, considering the sudden addenda of the National Assembly, considering in how many ways the constitution was violated when the CNE and the high Court were placed in office, and too many other instances to list here, I would like to know what is the difference between the Carmona decree and what Chavez is sticking down our throats. It is exactly the same garbage, except that Carmona tried to do it fast from the right whereas Chavez does it slowly from the left, with the oil money to lubricate. At the end individual freedom is lost. It is not idle to remember that polls in 2003 did not reach 50% to Chavez. There were between half a million and a 1 million people in the streets marching to Miraflores on April 11. Chavez can try to rewrite history as he wishes, some stubborn facts remain.
PS: Interestingly at the time I end typing this post, no important governmental page is reporting on these news, not ABN, not RNV. Obviously the spinning instructions have not been issued yet. On the other hand RNV post a ludicrous picture of Chavez with an indigenous hat to commemorate the "day of indigenous resistance" in his drive to restore racism in Venezuela. As usual, he lets his lackeys do the dirty work while he is hugging the people for which all of these violations are made. Stunning!