Monday, October 22, 2007

Chavez new constitution: article 100

Article 100 (original)
The folk cultures comprising the national identity of Venezuela enjoy special attention, with recognition of and respect for intercultural relations under the principle of equality of cultures. Incentives and inducements shall be provided for by law for persons, institutions and communities which promote, support, develop or finance cultural plans, programs and activities within the country and Venezuelan culture abroad. The State guarantees cultural workers inclusion in the Social security system to provide them with a dignified life, recognizing the idiosyncrasies of cultural work, in accordance with law.

Modified Article 100
*Note modifications are underlined
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a product of the mixing of various cultures; consequently the State recognizes and values the diversity of its Indigenous, European, and African roots that has created our great South American nation. The popular cultures, of Indigenous and African decent constituting the Venezuelan identity, enjoy special attention by recognizing and respecting its intercultural nature under the principle of cultural equality. Incentives and inducements shall be provided for by law for persons, institutions and communities which promote, support, develop or finance cultural plans, programs and activities within the country and Venezuelan culture abroad. The State guarantees cultural workers inclusion in the Social security system to provide them with a dignified life, recognizing the idiosyncrasies of cultural work, in accordance with law.

Comments on the modification

After reading the modified article it appears the changes are rather benign and minor. The major change has been defining the cultural heritage of Venezuela and what the “popular cultures” are. After a more careful read of the modification, one realizes that chavismo is defining what it is to be Venezuelan in a very narrow sense by inserting this statement: “The popular cultures, of Indigenous and African decent constituting the Venezuelan identity…”, this ultimately constitutes cultural and racial discrimination.

The most obvious problems with this modification is that Venezuelans are a mix of European, African, and Indigenous blood and culture. So how should Venezuelans define themselves, African? European? Indigenous? How should they/we divide and quantify the contribution of each culture when ours is a mixture of each one? To exemplify the stupidity of the modification one only has to highlight one of Venezuela’s most famous cultural traditions the Diablos de Yare. Traditions such as this were created through the mixing of Indigenous, African, and European cultures. To diminish European influence in creating Venezuelan culture and identity is cultural discrimination in its crudest form.

Chavismo’s discrimination towards European heritage is not something new. One of the most public acts was the destruction of a statue of Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day (“Dia de la Raza” in Venezuela) and the renaming of the day to “Indigenous day of resistance”. This act alone is symbolic of the dislike Chavismo has for European historical cultural heritage in Venezuela. This seems hypocritical since Venezuelan identity has been formed by these historical events, however horrifying some of them were. But rather than embrace, understand, and provide a context in which Venezuelan identity has been created, Chavismo has resorted to favoring one particular culture and interpretation of history to teach future generations what being a Venezuelan is, and is not.

The modified article is currently written in a way that suggests State support for cultural activities pertaining to the influence of European tradition in Venezuela will not be awarded. However, activities that promote the “popular cultures” (i.e. African and Indian) will be State supported. Again Chavez is discriminating against European culture by potentially not funding activities that uphold European influences in developing Venezuelan identity. Additionally, the new modification could be interpreted as allowing for State funding for autochthonous religious/cultural activities resulting in State sponsored religion. If the government were inclined to do so they could attempt to displace Catholicism/Christianity (European religion) with something more ”popular”

In a broader sense the modification is discriminatory to other cultures since it does not mention Asian and Middle Eastern influence, which has recently been influencing Venezuelan culture and history. The exclusion of these two geographic regions and its peoples from the modified article poses an interesting question. Why is Chavez limiting “popular cultures” to just Indigenous (Native Americans) and African roots? Native Americans were here before Africans and Europeans so why not define “popular culture” as just Indigenous activities? Essentially Chavez is defining what it is to be Venezuelan in a very narrow sense, by excluding recent cultural influences (ex. Asia, Middle East) and ignoring the historical European influences.

In short the modification to article 100 constitutes nothing short of cultural discrimination with the possible ulterior intention of rewriting history.

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Kensey writes his own blog, Venezuela US topics, and he can be reached there also for further questions.

-The end-

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