Editor's note: In this article Virginia tackles the "socialismo" concept of Chavez which is nothing but means to ensure more power for him. The welfare of the people is at best a desirable side effect.
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Article 70 - 1999 Constitution
Means of people’s participation and involvement in the exercise of their sovereignty, in political affairs, among others, are: the election of public officials, the referendum, the consultation of public opinion, mandate revocation, the legislative, constitutional and constituent initiatives, the open town council, and the citizens’ assembly, whose decisions shall be binding. Means of participation in social and economic affairs are: the citizens’ service bureaus, self-management, co-management, all forms of cooperatives, including those of financial nature, credit unions, community enterprises, and other forms of association guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity. The law shall establish conditions for the effective functioning of the means of participation contemplated under the present article.
(underlined sections are removed from the reformed article)
Article 70 Reformed
Means of people’s participation and involvement in the direct exercise of Their sovereignty, and FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM are: the election of public officials, the referendum, the consultation of public opinion, mandate revocation, the legislative, constitutional and constituent initiatives, the open town council, and the citizens’ assembly, THE DECISIONS OF THE LATTER BEING BINDING, THE COUNCILS OF POPULAR POWER (COMMUNAL COUNCILS, WORKERS COUNCILS, STUDENTS COUNCILS, FARMERS COUNCILS, AMONG OTHERS), THE WORKERS DEMOCRATIC MANAGEMENT OF ANY DIRECT OR INDIRECT SOCIAL PROPERTY ENTERPRISE, THE COMMUNAL self-management, FINANCIAL AND MICRO-FINANCIAL COMMUNAL ORGANIZATIONS, COMMUNAL PROPERTY COOPERATIVES, COMMUNAL credit unions, NETWORKS OF FREE ASSOCIATED PRODUCERS, VOLUNTARY WORK, community enterprises and other forms of association constituted to develop values of mutual cooperation and SOCIALIST solidarity
The law shall establish conditions for the effective functioning of the means of participation contemplated under the present article.
(sections in capital letters are new in the reformed article)
The section in parenthesis was modified by the National Assembly in the following way:
…/…THROUGH THE COMMUNAL COUNCILS, WORKERS COUNCILS, STUDENTS COUNCILS, FARMERS COUNCILS, ARTISAN COUNCILS, FISHERMEN COUNCILS, SPORTS COUNCILS, YOUTH COUNCILS, ELDERLY ADULTS COUNCILS, WOMEN COUNCILS, DISABLED PERSONS COUNCILS, AMONG OTHERS…/…
And the last paragraph will say: A NATIONAL LAW, instead of ‘The law”
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In order of appearance, this is the second article in the proposed reform presenting socialism as an exclusive system framing the activity of the government and of the citizens. “Means of people’s participation and involvement in the direct exercise of their sovereignty, and FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM”.
Taking into account that article 2 - part of the Fundamental Principles which cannot be altered by a constitutional reform- says that political pluralism is held as a superior value of the legal order and actions of the State, the first question the new article 70 poses is: Which article describes the means of participation of the people for purposes different from the construction of socialism?
There is no such article.
Does that mean that participation for other purposes will be considered unconstitutional? Let’s see:
“The government is and shall always be democratic, participatory and pluralist”, says Article 6 and “the organs of the State emanate from and are subject to the sovereignty of the people”, says article 5. The protection of the democratic exercise of the will of the people is guaranteed in article 3. All three also being part of the unalterable Fundamental Principles.
Furthermore, article 21 says that “all persons are equal before the law, and, consequently any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or encroaching upon the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of every individual shall not be permitted”.
Moreover, article 22 says that “The enunciation of rights and guarantees contained in this Constitution is not to be understood as negating others inherent to individuals, not expressly mentioned in such enunciation. The absence of a law regulating these rights shall not adversely affect the exercise thereof.”
The content of articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 21 and 22 clearly lead to the conclusion that the words ‘FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM” are superfluous and useless. And that is not even considering that the alluded socialism, (if it is the same as the so called ‘21st century socialism’) is nothing anybody can agree or disagree with, since it has only been defined in terms of what it will not be. It is something yet to be invented.
But this conclusion is only valid if the interpretation of the constitution is performed by an autonomous and impartial Judicial Power, one where its members are endowed with the honesty, capability, probity and excellence mandated by the constitution. With a Judicial Power under the control of the Executive and where the president of its Supreme Tribunal (twice fired from the Judicial system for illicit actions, in 1989 and 2003) is a member of the presidential committee for the constitutional reform (which makes her a judge and a party in the issue), the intention of the reform of article 70 of reducing the political rights of citizens to a single alternative becomes evident.
Another modification in article 70 is the elimination of co-management as a way of participation in social and economic affairs. Now there is no distinction between political, social or economic means of participation and only self-management is mentioned as a form of workers involvement in enterprise management. Is this an improvement? It depends on what kind of enterprises will the workers be allowed to manage themselves. Would Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) for example be managed from now on by the company workers? Well, no. The article makes it clear that only in the restricted realm or environment of what is ‘communal’ the workers may have any involvement. The term ‘communal’ would be related to either Communes (political entities with forms of self government equivalent to parishes) or Communities, (a new micro political division that is being introduced by article 16 which can only be explained as an obsession to micro manage the lives of the people.- Mousqueton-Article 16). The alleged increase in participation and power transfer to the people, used to advertise the constitutional reform would be manifested only in matters of little transcendence, matters with virtually no significance in the national context.
Then what is the meaning of ‘THE WORKERS DEMOCRATIC MANAGEMENT OF ANY DIRECT OR INDIRECT SOCIAL PROPERTY ENTERPRISE’? Perhaps PDVSA falls into the category of Social property? Well, no. Direct Social Property will be “what the State assigns to Communes or Communities or Cities”. Indirect Social Property is something “exercised by the State in the name of a Community”, according to the reformed article 115. Again any enterprise management where the workers will be in charge will not be anything over which the State doesn’t have full control. Nowhere in this reformed article it is said that the workers will have something to do with Public Property, the one that ‘belongs’ to State Entities. One can foresee that it is in the latter category where PDVSA belongs.
Notably missing among the means of participation listed in the new article 70 is the exercise of popular control over the State entities through ‘contraloria social’.
The effort of the National Assembly to make this article attractive by adding Fishermen, The Young, Women, Disabled people etc, to the list of the Councils of Popular Power (where they were already implicitly included with the words ‘among others’), denotes the disregard and disrespect of the servile group of legislators (that represents less than 20% of the electorate) for the citizens, condescendingly underestimating intelligence. Why? Because the Popular Power, as described in the reformed article 136, is not exercised by electing any communal, woman, elderly or student leader in any election. It is exercised by “being part of communes, communities and cities self-government.”
The National Assembly was careful to emphasize that no form of self-government at any of the micro-levels where participation is graciously allowed could ever create special legislation.
They had to include the word ‘National’ to qualify the type of law that will establish the conditions for the effective functioning of the means of participation.
Another reduction of the people’s rights is the transformation of the formerly binding decisions of the Open Town Councils (Town Meetings), into non-binding in the reformed article 70.
There is no way to know how “SOCIALIST solidarity” deviates from the universally understood concept of solidarity. But if the deviation follows the same pattern as “revolutionary justice” or “revolutionary democracy” from their respective original concepts, we can expect a result with no resemblance whatsoever to what the term pretends to invoke.
Finally, voluntary work now is characterized as a means of participation. Since it is incomprehensible to consider it as a political, social or economical right, it is feasible that some National law will make it a duty or a condition to exercise some fundamental right.
Article 70 is under TITLE III of the constitution, which refers to Duties, Human Rights and Guarantees. The proposed modifications imply a substantial reduction of the people’s rights, which is contrary to the principle of progressiveness, contemplated in the 1999 constitution.
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Translation into Spanish here.