Thursday, May 14, 2009

The current electoral campaign of Chavez: towards a new constitution?

Rocio San Miguel who now writes for Tal Cual puts up clearly a case scenario that is worth considering and that I was tinkering with, though not daring yet to write about it. But as is often the case, procrastination pays and instead of writing about the topic I just need to translate today's article of San Miguel. In short, it is the possible preparation of Chavez to write a brand new constitution and end once and for all any legal possibility for the opposition to access power through democratic means. Somme comments of mine at the end.

The campaign

The softening work on society, that Chavez has been doing in recent months on all fronts, is clear and purposeful, and has been observed by few.

The third stage of the revolution has begun. Chavez has said it explicitly.

In the economic sector [he is]affecting even those who were hitherto untouchables, expropriating land, establishing restrictions on all types of activity carried out, introducing the novelty of the end of private property and approving right and left laws that sustain the twenty-first century socialism.

In the social sphere [he is] activating the Ministry of Communes, to impose a legal concept to eliminate the role of mayors, especially those who are not aligned with the regime and to transfer from the presidency economic resources "direct" for projects that once "Venezuela" thought they could be managed in a decentralized country, without passing through the filter of forced adherence to a political project.

In politics [he] has taken out of the way opponents by disqualifying them, by giving the order to open legal proceedings against them, going as far as depriving them of liberty.

In the military sphere, perhaps society least known area, a fierce offensive is at play and has led in recent months to dozens of requests of retirement, especially from those without formal duties, the so called ‘institutionals’, who openly had been separated from the National Armed Forces active duty for being seen against the process of politicization of the Venezuelan military structure.

In the midst of all, there is no halt in the presidential cadenas, the distribution of "White Line” [kitchen appliances], foreign travels, the threat of opening new trials to private media, updating via “red points” the registration of the chavista PSUV, the restart of the show “La Hojilla”, the giving away, the demagoguery and threats to anyone who dissents from the regime.

Where is Chavez going? The president is in an electoral campaigning for the only exit for which the democratic society is not ready, [the] election of a National Constituent Assembly to be announced just as the referendum on February 15 [was announced].

With a date already set in Miraflores and not so late as to allow the opposition, including the independent sectors, to get prepared.

The parliamentary elections of 2010 would thus be annulled and who knows if the 2012 presidential elections too. Chavez feels he is winning. He is doing his polls and he is also promoting their results.

The center of gravity of his staying in power goes through a maneuver not without risks but surprising to prevent his opponents to organize.

This hypothesis would give as a voting date the month of June [the necessary referendum to call for a constituent assembly]. The election for a National Constituent Assembly [would be] on September 15, 2009 catching the country demobilized during the "convenient" student vacations, an opposition without logistics and a National Army in its highest point of demoralization of the last 10 years. It is worth reflecting on this scenario.

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Rocio San Miguel has been very active in civil rights issues and other political stuff since she came to notoriety as one of the first victims of the Tascon apartheid list to go public and seek legal redress. Since then she has been threatened but has not stopped from making TV appearances where she likes to discuss military and security matters (she worked at borders control before being fired) and writing for Tal Cual in addition of compiling Tascon List abuses.

Her article was difficult to translate because her style is not amenable to English translation and her text is really for local consumption as even, say, Colombians would have trouble understanding all the facts she takes for public knowledge. Thus the need for me to add many brackets and even words whose were not directly suggested by the original.

This being said, what can we make of her hypothesis? Well, it makes sense, even if she makes it sound easier to do for Chavez than what it really would be. After all the simple application of the lot of laws recently passed, that would remain unchallenged in courts, is enough for him to get what he wants the most now, an effective opposition neutralization that would allow smooth reelection in 2012. By 2018 we would be fully Zimbabwed so he would have no trouble for yet a new reelection.

But Chavez has two problems that he cannot just solve with he current legal situation. First he must run for reelection in 2012 and he is not sure that the crisis would be far behind and oil income high enough to ensure a smooth reelection. Second, to obtain his reelection amendment last February he had to accept that everyone could be reelected. This has always gone against his nature and we can be pretty sure that he needs to have this removed as he needs that lever to control any of his followers that would dare to run for reelection on their own (and likely win since the incumbent advantage has become so obscene today).

By calling for a new constitution with the pretext to enshrine the new "popular laws" he would get the two things that are at the core of his political project which is a legal and pseudo democratic way to remain president for life. The cynicism could be pushed far enough by him to put again term limits even for himself as long as he gets a fresh start in the new constitution of 2010. Even two seven years terms might be enough since at the end of them he would be 69 years old. Heck, he could even give two 4 year terms for everyone else and three 7 years for himself and pass it! Thus he would reach without any trouble the ripe age of 76 when his current crimes would be forgotten and he would be able to hand power down to any chosen heir. After all, who is remembering Fidel and Che's crimes in the current Cuban transition (and I do not have in mind only the Fidel to Raul one, but the one coming soon for Raul)?

It makes sense. And for more reasons than what is written above. If I had not written about such scenarios before it is because I had not weighted them enough; but more importantly because it would have forced me to write a specific post about the incompetence of the opposition unable to come up with a bold scenario of its own. For example right now the opposition should promote a constituent assembly to revoke the seizure of Caracas by gauleiter Faria(s), the new threat against private property and freedom of expression, just to name two causes worth moving one's butt. Instead what we see is a limited effort including only Caracas people when 46% of the country said NO last February with a number which probably increased since then. There is not even talk of recall election on the Nazional Assembly! Something that could work quite well at least in Caracas and Zulia, handing down to Chavez a strong psychological blow!!!!

I do not know if San Miguel scenario will happen, though it is interesting to consider the possibility (and make that a must for the opposition). After all Chavez could resort to yet another simpler referendum to end decentralization once and for all, based on the "comunas" demagoguery. Other referenda ideas can easily come up to achieve specific ends provided a bone is attached to each one of them, such as the reelection bone for all in last February. It is certainly true that the opposition is vulnerable right now but any Constituent Assembly this time around will have enough opposition to offer a concrete vocal platform that would be very difficult to silence. I doubt that today Chavez can repeat his 1999 win of 97% seats for 60% of the vote when he would be very hard pressed to get even 55% without outright cheating, with an opposition much more motivated than in 1999 which would definitely get enough seats to make a ruckus.

But then again the Chavez of today is certainly much more willing to have the CNE do all the necessary cheating to ensure him the majority he needs for quick new constitution approval.

-The end-

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