Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chavez new constituion: article 87 (AIO)

Introductory comment.

First of all, let me say that I think Bruni’s argument about the questionable constitutionality of this process is worth reading – if you haven’t, do it. Being a non-Venezuelan, I don’t think I’m really qualified to weigh in on the validity of that argument, but I don’t want the fact that I’m discussing an article to make it seem that I consider it a non-issue. (Speaking of that, check out this picture, with its caption about constitutional reform. Ironic, no?)

Second, I want to comment in general about constitutions. Being the most important aspect of a true democracy – since no one should be above the law, and it is the ultimate definition of that law, it therefore is more important than any person and their opinions – I believe it should contain only the most important, fundamental priorities. In other words, a constitution should always be short, because there are only so many things that deserve consideration as the highest priorities.

This is partly true because a constitution should only contain things that the government can reasonably guarantee, the things which should be considered basic, fundamental rights. The U.S. Constitution, for example (I’m not holding it up as a model for the whole world, but simply as a good example – if it were lousy, it wouldn’t have lasted 224 years and counting – and the one I know the best), promises “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and pretty much everything in it fits into those categories. It doesn’t reach beyond the basics.

Any overly long constitution (350 articles, perhaps?) will necessarily get into one or two areas beyond the fundamental rights: things which should properly be enacted as law, not the constitution; and things that can only be described as a wish list. A good standard for the first might be whether or not it can sustain at least 2/3 support of the people indefinitely (if it can, maybe it should be constitution material; if not, take it to the legislature). For the second, it comes down to whether or not the government can manage to provide it or not. If it’s beyond its power, but makes you think “Wouldn’t it be nice if…?” then leave it out. (And too much of that is one of the reasons Latin Americans have spent so much time writing new Constitutions – because they didn’t like the “wish list” of the last one.)

That said, on to Article 87.

The old version (translation from – and it’s quite easy to see what these pictures have to do with the Constitution. Not!):

All persons have the right and duty to work. The State guarantees the adoption of the necessary measures so that every person shall be able to obtain productive work providing him or her with a dignified and decorous living and guarantee him or her the full exercise of this right. It is an objective of the State to promote employment. Measures tending to guarantee the exercise of the labor rights of self-employed persons shall be adopted by law. Freedom to work shall be subject only to such restrictions as may be established by law.

Every employer shall guarantee employees adequate safety, hygienic and environmental conditions on the job. The State shall adopt measures and create institutions such as to make it possible to control and promote these conditions.

The new version:

All persons of working age have the right and duty to work. The State will develop policies that generate productive work, and will adopt social measures necessary for each person to achieve an existence which is dignified, decorous and beneficial for themselves and for society.

The State will guarantee that in all labor centers safety, hygienic and environmental, and social relations conditions are fulfilled in accordance with human dignity, and will create institutions such as to make it possible to control and promote these conditions.

In the application of these principles of co-responsibility and solidarity, the employer will adopt all necessary measures for the fulfillment of these conditions.

Work will be subject to the regime established in this Constitution and the laws of the Republic.

For the purpose of guaranteeing the exercising of labor rights of independent workers, such as taxi drivers, truckers, retailers, craftsmen, professionals and who are self-employed in whatever productive activity to support themselves and their family, the Law will create and develop everything with regard to a social stability Fund for self-employed workers, so that with the contribution of the State and the worker, the worker can enjoy fundamental labor rights such as retirement, pensions, vacations, rest, prenatal and postnatal care, and other rights established by law.

This article comes from the section called “De los Derechos Humanos y Garantías, y de los Deberes” – “About Human Rights and Guarantees, and about Duties.” Anything related to employment, with the exception of precluding slavery, seems to me to fall well short of that category. If one were to list things that should be guaranteed to all, a job would not be near the top of the list. Same thing if one were to list things a government could guarantee. Frankly, the only appropriate change for this article would have been to delete it altogether. Everything in the old version fell into those two categories: things that should be a in a law (why does any legislature need a Constitution to tell them what laws to pass?), or “wish list.”

On to the changes: the first big one is that the State will no longer guarantee the adoption of measures to help provide work, but will itself develop the policies for the same. In other words, more State intervention, which will do the opposite of facilitating job creation. Always has, always will. A certain degree of State intervention is very important, but I think Venezuela passed that point long ago, and just kept going. You see the same theme in the change about safety conditions, which were to be provided by the employer, and now are guaranteed by the State – with new institutions to “control” them. This implies a dependence on the State – is that the intent? Yet again when the State guarantees conditions about “social relations,” whatever that means. The employer’s responsibility will now be to fulfill “co-responsibility and solidarity.”

Another notable change is that the end result of facilitating work that is beneficial for society. And just who makes that determination? If it’s anyone but society itself, it’s going to be mistaken at times. A promise of “human dignity” is also added, also without definition.

“Work will be subject to the regime established in this Constitution and the laws of the Republic.” Can someone explain to me why this was necessary – if it weren’t included, then work would be supra-constitutional?

I'm very amused by the addition of several types of independent workers. This has got to be the first proposed Constitution in the world to ever mention taxi drivers! The proposed stability fund is potentially a good idea, but far too vague to even guess. Plus the idea is utterly worthless without a law, so it’s pointless to include.

There are some other little details, but the sum of the changes promise nothing concrete, except for additional State intervention. That intervention is vaguely defined to boot, which means that it could be quite excessive. Unfortunately, there is nothing here that gives any reason to think that anything employment-related will improve.

Finally, there is one deletion which is very intriguing: the sentence “It is an objective of the State to promote employment” has been removed! Why? Because “social relations,” “control” of employers, and “co-responsibility and solidarity” are more important? Because promoting employment isn’t “beneficial…for society”?

I suspect another reason: because this is the one thing in the original article that Chavez knows he can’t fulfill. He can guarantee more control, greater intervention, lots of activities with “social” purposes (but not necessarily results). But he can’t make it easier to create employment.

This isn’t just my opinion – the World Bank released its annual “Doing Business” report just this week. (Perfect timing!) Venezuela is 172 out of the 178 countries listed, ahead of economic luminaries Chad, Burundi, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic, and the Dem. Republic of Congo. The nearest non-African country is Laos, at 164, and even Haiti – the closest in the Western Hemisphere – is out of reach at 148. Not only that, but Venezuela is 20 spots below Zimbabwe!

And when it comes to the criterion of “Employing Workers,” Venezuela is even worse off – they are tied for dead last in the entire world! So there you have it – Chavez has proposed no longer having to promote employment, which the World Bank says no one in the world does worse already. And nothing in the proposed Constitutional change gives reason to think it will be the least bit better.

aninterestedobserver at yahoo dot com

-The end-

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ahmadinejad in Caracas

The cadena starts.

A pathetic reception, late at night on the steps of Miraflores with a small group of officials and a military band.

Chavez endorses Ahmadinejerk fully, including all things nuclear, including defending him for his "courageous" posture in the trap set by the lackey of the Empire, namely the very Liberal Dean of Columbia who had the misfortune to invite him to call him a dictator. I mean, if you invite someone you should be at least polite enough to call him a dictator BEFORE or AFTER your guest visits. How rude! At any rte, we are once again proven that Chavez knows very little about the US subtleties.

Ahmadinejerk makes a speech praising all the leftists revolutions of Latin America. He includes Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, of course. Yet he also includes Uruguay as an oppressed country, showing that he is equally well versed in LatAm subtleties as Chavez is in the US ones. Or was that a way to acknowledge the rumored arm trafficking from Iran that might go through Uruguay?

They all walk inside Miraflores, Chavez with his left hand on Ahmadinejerk (someone should tell him that the left hand is not praised much in Iran...)

End of a short and pathetic cadena, but an important one as Chavez definitely throws his lot behind Iran, the right wing religious revolution who short of friends must bind with equally fundamentalist LatAm regimes. The things we are given to see in our life time!!!!!!

Oh, and foreign papers describe in strong terms the rejection of the Jewish community of Venezuela to Ahmadinejerk visit. But I did not see much of it in Venezuelan media. I wonder and I worry.....

-The end-

Ahmadinejad in Bolivia: Venezuelan corruption at its best!

Some days there seems to be some cosmic conjunction that allows even the most modest of bloggers to draw major observations.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fresh from his New York stinky stint, went to Bolivia. What could possibly be Bolivian and Iranian common interests escapes me completely, as it also seems to escape some in the Bolivian opposition. Though apparently there are nasty rumors that Iran would love to be looking for possible uranium deposits in the Altiplano. Whatever these are, Ahmadinejerk landed today in Santa Cruz with his Iranian air 747 for a "technical" stop. From there he flew to La Paz, but NOT in his plane. The plane that we saw on TV landing in La Paz with a deplaning Ahmadinejerk was a Venezuelan plane that strangely looked exactly as the Chavez personal Airbus paid at Venezuelan taxpayer expense.

We can pass on such details such as the 747 not being able to land in La Paz (showing that Morales feels insecure enough that he cannot go to Santa Cruz to receive Ahmadinejerk). We can pass on the 747 having a "technical problem" forcing Mahmoud to take another flight. But we cannot pass on Chavez plane casually parked in Santa Cruz to offer a ride to Mahmoud. Did Iran pay for the plane to go round trip Caracas Santa Cruz? Did Mahmoud pay for the flight round trip Santa Cruz La Paz? If he did not then we have misuse of Venezuelan public funds, and more than likely corruption punishable by current Venezuelan law, a law strong enough to unseat a former president of Venezuela when the courts were still semi independent form the executive power.

What I mean is that the courts in Venezuela have lost any independence long ago and now Chavez can use Venezuelan public funds as if they were his to dispose at will. I think that even in the time of Gomez appearances were better kept, considering the era. I will remind that in 1999-2000, a newly arrived Chavez administration made a big fuss because PDVSA airplanes tended to offer lifts to people not related to PDVSA. The scandal was big enough that Chavez staged an apparent sell out of most of PDVSA planes. Today PDVSA/CITGO are rumored to have more planes than ever, to give more lifts than ever, and even Chavez offers his rumored gold plated toilet seat of his airplane to whomever is in need to use it.

But this plane we saw on TV with Mahmoud arriving, with VENEZUELA big on it is just one of the may aspects of Venezuela corruption. Today we got two more sets of corruption scene.

The electoral campaign

Since the numbers are not adding up for the referendum of December, the sycophants that surround chavez are falling over each other trying to rise up the ante.

The Labor Minister, Rivero, went out today insisting, again, that the work week will drop to 36 hours a week and that nobody will be forced to work on Saturdays. He stupendously contradicts the constitutional reform proposal that states clearly, unambiguously, that the work day cannot exceed 6 hours. In other words, if the labor minister was doing the job he was appointed to he woudl realize that the constitutional proposal means that NO BODY CAN WORK MORE THAN 6 HOURS A DAY AND THUS NO MORE THAN 30 HOURS A 5 DAY WEEK. HE WOULD KNOW THAT THE ONLY WAY, AS PER THE NEW CONSTITUTION, TO REACH A WORK WEEK OF 36 HOURS IS TO WORK ON SATURDAYS. Yet he lies, shamelessly.

Cilia Flores, nothing less than the president of the National Assembly is on record today saying that nobody should be scared by the limitations on private property introduced by the new constitution. Why? Because the penal code and code of commerce already guarantee those rights. That is, the woman that chairs the body that makes the law of the nation is telling us that a law derived from an old constitution is ABOVE a new constitution. One does not know whether to cry or to laugh at such stupidity. But one is clearly aware of the bad faith and the lies of the woman.

In any normal country, with a normal judicial system, these two public declarations would be enough to force the liars to resign from their office. These people might not be financially corrupt (though at least int he case of Cilia there is enough indirect evidence that she has "benefited" from the revolution, such as her hubby paying first class tickets in cash). However these people are clearly morally corrupt.

The Transparency International index

And to top it off the global corruption index of Transparency International was published this week. Venezuela appeared in the bottom group (162 rank, with 2 out of 10 points), just above Haiti and together with such luminaries as Myanmar (the Burma of recent news), Iraq, Sudan or Zimbabwe. And far from other LatAm countries such as Chile (22, 7 out of 10) or Uruguay (25, 6.7 out of 10, though the latest air bag full of cash episode will test this Uruguay rank). Venezuela also dropped 21 spots from last survey!

So, what is the reaction in Venezuela? Let's start with the 'flagship' newspaper pro Chavez, Panorama of Maracaibo trying to downplay the result. We read there that multinational companies fuel corruption through their grants. That is, we are led to believe that Venezuelan corruption exists because those nasty multinationals have been corrupting the honest Venezuelan civil servants. Well, that might be part of the story for sure, but are there not the same multinational companies working in Chile and Uruguay? Not to mention that I am sure that they are also operating in some of the 10 best ranked countries such as Canada or Singapore. And not to mention that Chavez has been busy trying to expel them from Venezuela through a series of nationalizations. Of course Panorama does not wonder if PDVSA is a multinational that brings corruption to Argentina through bags carrying 800 000 USD in cash.

But the best would come, as expected, from the particularly lifeless, humorless, incompetent general comptroller of the nation, Clodosvaldo Russian (Ruffian? I get confused sometimes). In a particularly sad performance, the man that is supposed to fight corruption in Venezuela said that it was all just a media manipulation, that no one tried to investigate Transparency International to see if it was a legitimate NGO. I kid you not, the guy had the gall to do a public killing of the messenger instead of offering proof that he is actually doing the job he is paid for.

Interestingly he also added that it was financed by the IMF, the US and the World Bank, which of course begs the question: how come the US did rather poorly (20, 7.2 out of 10, barely better than Chile) if they are the ones financing the NGO? He also added that the T.I used some military recruiting result that was outdated. I looked into the methods offered in the T.I. page and I did not see anything of the sort in the PDF documents offered which I checked (I did not check them all but I did check those that seemed to have a relation with methods). Curiously the same method used by the pro Chavez people visiting this page, latching on a tiny detail that might or might not be an error in a log post, but a tiny detail that they can twist out of context in the hope that the whole post will collapse. Intellectual terrorism, to give it a charitable name.

When I read the arguments of Clodosvaldo Ruffian to cover his sorry ass and sorrier reputation, or Panorama silence I can only say that they are intellectually corrupt.

And thus you have, the many splendored facets of chavismo as it brings corruption everywhere.

-The end-

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Burma is important for Venezuela's future

I have been watching in awe as the Monks in Burma have decided to take to the streets to protest the latest abuses of the military junta that has held the country into its fetid grip for decades. And I am worried sick about what will be fate of Aung San Suu Kyi as she has been taken again into custody.

It also worries me that Chavez is slowly setting up a system that one day will be like the Burmese system, a large mass of individuals without any prospect of self empowerment, a small tight cast of people controlling all the powers that matter.

And I am also worried sick that chavez continues to surrender parcels of Venezuela to China and Russia as his best guarantees that the Western Democratic world will look away as long as he keeps sending oil to their greedy motorists. The editorial of Washington Post says it all, from how Burma willingly became a Chinese Economical colony to how Putin's Russia frowns on any intervention to help the democratic opposition, least some day the next Chechnya he will start is criticized from the West.

And this is the brave new world that Chavez wants to take us in, a set of authoritarian regimes based on a military/political elite where any opposition will be shot at. Remember that in February 2004 Chavez army shoot at the people and killed many protesters. Since then the Misiones hand outs have allowed him to keep a good control of the country but the waste of his regime and the slow decrease of oil production will one day make Misiones insufficient. When that day comes Chavez will count on friendly foreign ministers to say as the Russian minister said yesterday that all in Burma will return to normal soon, as chilling a warning as one can hear (my emphasis in the editorial text below).

Save Burma
Will China and Russia give a green light to a slaughter of the monks?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

BURMA' S BRAVE monks and the thousands of people who support them have been chanting a simple demand to the country's military rulers: dialogue. Instead, the peaceful protesters in Rangoon were attacked yesterday with tear gas, water cannons and gunfire. By the regime's own account, at least one person was killed when troops fired on a crowd near the venerated Sule Pagoda; opposition accounts said as many as eight people died and hundreds of monks were beaten before being hauled onto trucks and driven away. The corrupt and paranoid generals in the ruling junta have clearly decided to face a popular uprising with the same methods used to put down a similar revolt in 1988. That means the world can expect mass bloodshed in Burma in the coming days -- unless something is done to stop it.

The United States and the European Union acted with admirable cohesion and aggressiveness yesterday, calling for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and asking it to consider sanctions. The Western governments issued a blunt joint statement that condemned the violence and told the Burmese generals they would be held individually accountable for their actions. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was eloquent: "The whole world is now watching Burma, and its illegitimate and repressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account," he said. "The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights is over."

The problem is that the "whole world" is not yet prepared to prevent a massacre of monks. Several countries that like to think of themselves as strategic partners of the West -- in particular, Russia and China -- are blocking concerted international action against the regime. China, which has taken advantage of Burma's pariah status to turn it into a virtual economic colony, came out against U.N. sanctions yesterday. Russia's foreign ministry issued a statement rejecting "interference in the domestic affairs" of Burma and predicting that "the situation will be back to normal soon" -- chilling words considering what the troops in Rangoon would have to do to return the situation to "normal."

Yesterday, Russia and China prevented the Security Council even from condemning the violence against protesters. In effect, they are giving the regime a green light for brutal repression. We can hope that the generals will be deterred by the warnings about the war crimes trials that could await them, or that their officers and conscripts will refuse to carry out their orders. If the repression proceeds, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao will have Burma's blood on their hands.

-The end-

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Exactly what would it have accomplished to "engage in a debate" with Hitler?

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating Op-Ed piece which is food for thought, Liberals or not alike. The question asked is whether Columbia receiving Hitler for a speech in 1939 would have made any difference? In other words, are there limits to dialogue and discussion?

The question is not an idle one as Columbia University, this hallowed bastion of New York Liberalism, is receiving Mahmoud Ahmadinejerk, oops!, Ahmadinejad for a speech while this one is coming to the UN conference as if he were your average head of state, Ground Zero visit included. Justly justifying, I think, the title of the piece is "Columbia's Conceit".

At the end of the article we can read the following:
In just a few years, some of these men [who would have received Hitler at Columbia in 1939] will be rushing a beach at Normandy or caught in a firefight in the Ardennes. And the fact that their ideas were finer and better than Hitler's will have done nothing to keep them and millions of their countrymen from harm, and nothing to get them out of its way.
To bring this into some context, for this Venezuelan blog at least, let's observe that Ahmadinejerk is a close ally of Chavez (not Venezuela, Chavez, extremely important distinction).

Serendipity wants that last night in a fit of idleness I watched La Hojilla, the worst political garbage of the state network VTV. Bad luck had it that Chavez linked to La Hojilla at 11:40 PM, from a big room where a U shaped system of tables showed plenty of bleary eyed folks still at work at some conference (we are in an electoral campaign and even if the country infrastructure is crumbling and the shelves are usually empty of milk, sugar and beans, there is a need to project an image of a president working 25 hours a day). While La Hojilla host, a pathetically semi orgasmic giggling Mario Silva, was shown on the little left corner square of the TV set, Chavez occupied most of the screen while explaining to us all the wonders of the Iranian collaboration, how they had to study hard to transform their mills designed for wheat into mills that could process corn and how now Venezuela would be buying plenty of mills from Iran to process the crops.

I cannot stress how wrong this is, how stupid and bad faith was Chavez last night. The problem in Venezuela is not the processing of Corn flour. We are the best at that, and we have even developed a spectacular infrastructure for the very specific needs of the type of corn flour that is needed for our Arepa, a very different quality than what is used in Mexico or elsewhere. Polar and other giant concerns in Venezuela have been perfectly able to supply for now decades enough corn flour to ALL Venezuelans at a very decent price, making it even often the only food item that poor Venezuelan could afford. That reality was even bad enough that Polar corn flour comes even supplemented with some trace elements to try to palliate some of the nutritional deficiencies that come with a diet based on corn flour bread alone.

No matter what Chavez says or said, corn floor production and supply in Venezuela was one of the greatest capitalist success story in that it provided a whole country with a cheap source of food that would allow to stop the hunger crisis of the past in a way no other government was able to do, including this one who can only avoid empty shelves through increasing imports of food, with all the irregularities, waste and corruption that come in a subsidized scheme. The problem in Venezuela today are the ill conceived agrarian policies which are ruining agricultural production. The problem is not processing and distribution of food stuff, the problem is their production, and this is the abject reality that Chavez is so desperate to hide.

But Chavez is willing to jettison what Venezuela does best in order to increase his control on all. Polar et al. must be broken and the Iranian alliance will be the tool, or so he hopes. Chavez will control the food supply to Venezuelans so that we will owe him everything and for this he is binding Venezuela to the most alien culture to the Venezuelan way of life where adultery, beer, string bikini and even gay sex flourish (there are enough repressed and not so repressed homosexuals in Chavez entourage). In Iran all these people risk from public lashing to outright death by stoning.

And Chavez also announced to us, after defending Iran's nuclear program, that one day Venezuela will start its own nuclear program. Until when for Columbia to receive Chavez?

I am not prepared to link Chavez to Hitler, not even Mussolini, and perhaps not even Peron. He is too much of a coward, of a tropical small time thug to manage to create a system that could really threaten the peace of the world (except for the continuous decrease of Venezuelan oil production). Besides, even if he is surrounded by sycophants (the presentation of Hector Navarro last night, the "Science" minister, was particularly pathetic), these ones are of such low quality that I wonder if they could run a concentration camp efficiently. Not that they would not try to do it, after all there is the Tascon list to show to the world that active discrimination is now an everyday occurrence in Venezuela. No, they are just too incompetent: the Chavez regime is held in place by corruption and hand outs through high oil prices while Cuban agents control things behind the scene.

But it cannot denied either that Chavez is a danger. A danger to Venezuelans to begin with. A danger to the world by supporting people like Saddam, Ahmadinejad and Castro, not to mention a discrete support for North Korea, the Taliban and other assorted terrorist groups and common criminals such as the FARC. All the evidence is there, nothing needs to be discussed anymore.

One wonders at Columbia receiving someone who has made the destruction of Israel his personal pet project. Is there any discussion, dialogue possible with such a person? I do not think so, and the Columbia board is looking mighty stupid in receiving someone who has been put on the shit list of even a country like France.

And what about Chavez and his supporters here? As is the case for Ahmadinejad, Chavez becomes everyday more difficult to defend for those who are willing to dig a little bit below the show that Chavez masterfully puts up 24/24. There are certain things that free aspirin distribution cannot hide and even less compensate. Venezuela today is more vulnerable than ever. Besides oil there is nothing we produce in enough quantity to export and trade to compensate for a continued decline in oil production. And with the constitutional changes coming among an already fraudulent electoral campaign, human rights violations will become soon more frequent than even in Iran.

The question that is asked here is how long will dialogue be an option with Chavez and his supporters. Is it even an option today? Already Chavez refuses to answer questions from the press and treats them badly, saying that their questions are stupid and he thus does not need to reply to them. Will in the next future the press even get close enough to ask him how come there is blood on his hands? Will Columbia students treated as stupid if they dare to ask him real questions that even a true blue Liberal would ask? As for Chavez supporters, well, they are now a waste of time and judging to what happens in Internet pages such as this one or in newspapers such as EL Universal, they have stopped making sense and are easily exposed. So, when Ahmadinejerk or Chavez are invited to Columbia, who is there to blame? When are these trouble makers going to be taken for what they really are, even if their people were stupid and ignorant enough to vote for them? When will the likes of John Coatsworth realize that sometimes conflict cannot be avoided and early confrontation and containemt is the only way to avoid further damage?

But I suppose that Coatsworth, some in the Columbia faculty, Chavez and Ahmadinejerk all share something: they are incurable narcissists, those that have long ago adopted the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
Since I do not know how long the WSJ keeps up its pieces, I am posting the whole thing below.

Columbia's Conceit
Exactly what would it have accomplished to "engage in a debate" with Hitler?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On Saturday John Coatsworth, acting dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, made the remark that "if Hitler were in the United States and . . . if he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him." This was by way of defending the university's decision to host a speech yesterday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

An old rule of thumb in debate tournaments is that the first one to say "Hitler" loses. But say what you will about Mr. Coatsworth's comment, it is, at bottom, a philosophical claim: about the purposes of education; about the uses of dialogue; about the obligations of academia; about the boundaries (or absence of boundaries) of modern liberalism and about its conceits. So rather than dismiss the claim out of hand, let's address it in the same philosophical spirit in which it was offered.

A few preliminaries: When Mr. Coatsworth postulated Hitler's visit, he specified the year 1939, just prior to Germany's invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II. This, then, is not yet the Hitler of Auschwitz, though it is the Hitler of Dachau, the Nuremberg Laws, Guernica and Kristallnacht. Mr. Coatsworth takes the optimistic view that "an appearance by Hitler at Columbia could have led him to appreciate what a great power the U.S. had already become," and thus, presumably, kept America from war.

Less clear is whether Mr. Coatsworth issued his invitation in the name of Columbia's current faculty or on behalf the faculty of the 1930s or '40s. We'll assume the answer is the current faculty, since it's unlikely that a committee led by Jacques Barzun, Mark van Doren, Lionel Trilling or other Columbia luminaries of the day would have had much use for "discussion" with the Führer (though it seems Columbia hosted a speech by Hans Luther, Hitler's U.S. ambassador, in 1933).

What, then, would be the purpose of such an invitation? Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, offered a clue in a statement issued last week: "Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas--to understand the world as it is and as it might be," he said. "Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most or even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through dialogue and reason."

That's an interesting thought, coming from a man who won't countenance an ROTC program on campus. But leave that aside. What's more important is the question of how Columbia defines the set of ideas it believes are worth "confronting," whether its confidence in "dialogue and reason" is well placed and, finally, whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world.

In a March 1952 essay in Commentary magazine on "George Orwell and the Politics of Truth," Trilling observed that "the gist of Orwell's criticism of the liberal intelligentsia was that they refused to understand the conditioned way of life." Orwell, he wrote, really knew what it was like to live under a totalitarian regime--unlike, say, George Bernard Shaw, who had "insisted upon remaining sublimely unaware of the Russian actuality," or H.G. Wells, who had "pooh-poohed the threat of Hitler." By contrast, Orwell "had the simple courage to point out that the pacifists preached their doctrine under condition of the protection of the British navy, and that, against Germany and Russia, Gandhi's passive resistance would have been to no avail."

Trilling took the point a step further, assailing the intelligentsia's habit of treating politics as a "nightmare abstraction" and "pointing to the fearfulness of the nightmare as evidence of their sense of reality." To put this in the context of Mr. Coatsworth's hypothetical, Trilling might have said that in hosting and perhaps debating Hitler, Columbia's faculty and students would not have been "confronting" him, much as they might have gulled themselves into believing they were. Hitler at Columbia would merely have been a man at a podium, offering his "ideas" on this or that, and not the master of a huge terror apparatus bearing down on you. To suggest that such an event amounts to a confrontation, or offers a perspective on reality, is a bit like suggesting that one "confronts" a wild animal by staring at it through its cage at a zoo.

There is also the question of just what ideas would be presented by Hitler at Mr. Coatsworth's hypothetical conference, and whether they would be an accurate reflection of his beliefs and intentions. In his 1933 speech, Ambassador Luther made the case for Hitler's "peaceful intentions" in Europe, according to historian Rafael Medoff. Millions of Europeans believed this right up to September 1939, just as millions of Americans did right up to December 1941.

Let's assume, however, that Hitler had used the occasion of his speech not just to dissimulate but to really air his mind, to give vent not just to Germany's historical grievances but to his own apocalyptic ambitions. In "Terror and Liberalism" (2003), Columbia alumnus Paul Berman observes the way in which prewar French socialists--keenly aware and totally opposed to Hitler's platform--nonetheless took the view that Germany had to be accommodated and that the real threat to peace came from their own "warmongers and arms manufacturers." This notion, Mr. Berman writes, rested in turn on a philosophical belief that "even the enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable."

So there is Adolf Hitler on our imagined stage, ranting about the soon-to-be-fulfilled destiny of the Aryan race. And his audience of outstanding Columbia men are mostly appalled, as they should be. But they are also engrossed, and curious, and if it occurs to some of them that the man should be arrested on the spot they don't say it. Nor do they ask, "How will we come to terms with his world?" Instead, they wonder how to make him see "reason," as reasonable people do.

In just a few years, some of these men will be rushing a beach at Normandy or caught in a firefight in the Ardennes. And the fact that their ideas were finer and better than Hitler's will have done nothing to keep them and millions of their countrymen from harm, and nothing to get them out of its way.

Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.

-The end-

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chavez new constitution: article 115 (Pedro B.)

Analysis of Article 115 of the 1999 Constitution and Its proposed Reform
by Pedro Bernardez

Article 115 as it stands:

“The right to own property is guaranteed. Every person has a right to the use, enjoyment, and disposition of his/her goods. Property will be subject to the contributions, restrictions and obligations that the law establishes in the spirit of public use or general interest. It is only in the spirit of public use or general interest, through final judgment and quick payment of fair compensation, that any kinds of goods may be expropriated”

Article 115’s proposed reform:

“The different forms of property are recognized and guaranteed. Public property [“la propiedad pública”] is that which belongs to State entities; social property [“la propiedad social”] is that which belongs to the people in its entirety and to the future generations, and may be of two types: indirect social property, when it is exercised by the State in name of the community, and direct social property, when the State assigns it, under different forms and in outlined territories, to one or several communities, to one or several communes [“comunas”], constituting thusly communal property, or to one or several cities, constituting thusly cityward property; collective property [“la propiedad colectiva”] is that which belongs to social groups or persons, for their benefit, use or common enjoyment, of either social or private origin; mixed property [“la propiedad mixta”] is that constituted by the public sector, the social sector, the collective sector and the private sector, in differing combinations, for the utilization of resources or carrying out activities, always subject to the absolute respect of the Nation’s economic and social sovereignty; and private property [“la propiedad privada”] is that which belongs to natural or juristic persons and is recognized over user and consumer goods, and legitimately acquired means of production.

All property, [the comma there is part of the article, and not my mistake] will be subject to the contributions, burdens, restrictions and obligations that the law establishes in the spirit of public use or general interest. In the name of public use or general interest, through final judgment and quick payment of fair compensation, the expropriation of any kind of good may be declared, without restricting the right of State officials, [the comma is also part of the article] of previously occupying, [as is this comma] during the judicial process, the goods being expropriated, within the parameters established by law.”

Essential changes

Private property: although, in a technical sense, the articles barely contradict each other in regards to private property, what does happen is that the definition of private property is specifically narrowed down to “user and consumer goods and legitimately acquired means of production” and subject to greater restrictions than in the current article.

Under the new article, persons do not explicitly have a right to the disposition of their goods, which means that for example rental of said goods could not be exploited for economic gain.

This means that all economic sectors that rely on rent such as hotels, rented apartments, rental stores, and businesses that rent out industrial equipment would cease to exist as private, either becoming collective or disappearing.

Also, since private property is restricted to “user and consumer goods and legitimately acquired means of production” it includes neither land (unless it were a “legally acquired means of production”) nor intellectual property, unproductive land and real estate (even the land one lives on) and personally produced works of art could never constitute one’s own private property.

In addition to these restrictions is the fact that State entities have the guaranteed right to occupy goods when and while a judicial process to expropriate them is pending.

“Legitimately acquired means of production” presents another problem: since it is the people (on whom sovereignty rests according to the Constitution), and therefore the State (in the people’s name), what define what “legitimately acquired is”, it leaves the State with the option of acquiring said means of production, possibly without compensation, by simply declaring such acquisition as “in the people’s interest. The use of legitimate as opposed to legal implies the possible use such supra or extralegal justifications for the acquisition of said means of production even if they were legally acquired.

This is in addition to any restrictions on legal acquisitions. It is also the State who defines the laws, and therefore may rule ownership of certain property illegal by simply altering existing laws to exclude such property. The State already did so when it redefined what legally acquired lands were in 2005, and took lands that were outside this definition (in this case, private lands that were not registered in 1821)

In other words, as opposed to the current article (which guarantees private ownership except in the “spirit of public use or general interest”), the new article gives the government the implicit power to instantly requisition all means of production if it wanted to by a simple change of the law or “on behalf of the people”.

Lastly, note that the new article does not explicitly establish the right for the personal and exclusive enjoyment of one’s private property; in fact, nowhere in the article are citizens given any rights over property: only the State explicitly reserves them for itself.

In conclusion, private property as understood by the new article is a much more restricted and narrow version than it is in the current one, and essentially nullifies most of it.

Other property: in addition to private property, the new article outlines several different new kinds of property: public, social, collective, and mixed.

Public property as defined by the article is conceivably that which belongs to state institutions. Since the definition is vague and succinct and not supported by a justification, it could be that anything could be potentially declared public property.

Social property, although it seems to give “the people” sovereignty over it, in reality places it in the hands of the State since it is either managed by the State in the people’s name (“indirect social property”) or assigned to the people (“direct social property”), potentially meaning that the State could reassign it at any given time.

Collective property is just that: property that belongs to a group or collective for their benefit. In reality, what is today private property could be conceivably transformed into collective property if it was de facto shared by several people: a home shared by a family or a small business for example. However, this emphasis on the collective over the individual stifles forms of individual private enterprise, such as freelance artists, taxi drivers, tutors, psychiatrists, and the like. Unless they were part of a collective, any property they might own could not be used for this end. In reality, it forces people to form enterprises collectively to survive.

In addition, since the article does not guarantee collective property and only defines it (and not even as a right), its actual existence can only be determined by subsequent laws. Analysis of other articles may also be necessary to understand further implications or restrictions.

Mixed property is any combination of the former, subject to “the Nation’s economic and social sovereignty”. The main problem is that any such property and activities carried out with it could not contradict the State’s (representing “the Nation”) economic and social decisions, previous or future. In addition, since it is the only type of property explicitly authorized for the utilization of resources, and is subject to the Nation’s social sovereignty, presumably referring to the types of social property managed or assigned by the State in the Nation’s name, it places all type of resource exploitation under the State’s control.

In conclusion, although several types of property have been defined, the article has de facto placed almost all of them under the State’s direct administration, leaving the only one which hasn’t (collective property) up for grabs (I’m not considering private property in this statement since it was treated in another section).

Property sytem: since private property is redefined severely from the current article, (in opposition to the current article which gives an explicit right to individual property ownership) and since the State de facto reserves disposition of all the newly defined property in name of the collective including any former private property that would become collective under the new article, the system of property has been essentially altered from the current constitution.

Therefore, it can be argued that it alters its fundamental structure, in opposition to article 342 of the current constitution. This article reads:

A Constitutional Reform has as its objective a partial revision of this Constitution and the substitution of one or several of its guidelines that do not modify the structure and fundamental principles of the Constitutional text.

Because of this, the changes go beyond the scope of a Constitutional Reform, and should therefore be subject to another process. The article would be unconstitutional if passed under a Constitutional Reform.

Article 350: the proposed article also flies in the face of this article of the current Constitution, which reads:

The people of Venezuela, loyal to their republican tradition, their fight for independence, peace and liberty, will disavow any regime, legislation or authority that contradicts democratic values, principles and guarantees [,] or undermines human rights [it doesn’t need a comma in Spanish; I added it to dispel the confusion that might arise from the phrase “and guarantees or undermines human rights”, since it refers to the contradiction of democratic guarantees and is not a semantic confusion]”.

The regime, legislation and authority granted by this article contradict democratic values and principles for two main reasons.

First, it infringes on article 17 of the Human Rights Charter (paragraph 2: “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others”) because it doesn’t define property as a right, and does not guarantee any property defined.

Secondly, by subordinating almost all property to the State, it reduces the freedom of both groups and individuals as the choices of said groups or individuals can be largely overruled by the State; in addition, since property, and especially private property, is restricted further than in the current article, it shows a trend of restricting freedom, which is contrary to the democracy implied in article 350 (which includes freedom as a cornerstone of the people’s tradition).

In conclusion: because of these violations, the people would have the right to disavow the government that would be put in place by the proposed article.

Final Conclusion

The proposed article severely restricts private property while de facto subordinating almost all proposed collective property to the State. In light of this contrast to the current article, which is not as restrictive, the proposed one contradicts article 342 of the current Constitution because it alters the fundamental structure of the principle of property outlined within the current one (and therefore being outside of the scope of a Constitutional Reform; another process would have to be used). In addition, because it violates democratic principles, values and guarantees in at least two areas, the regime, legislation and authority that would be put in place under the proposed article would have to be disavowed by the people as per article 350 of the current Constitution.

Additional private comments to, Subject: Art 115

-The end-

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Bolivarian Mafia: chavismo recycles

The colorful bolibana robolution, erh, 'scuse me, revolution is rich in slimy characters that are quite often recycled criminals from the now distant 4th republican past. As a matter of fact, a strong case can be made that the present corruption days, where bags full of illegal cash are flying happily out of Caracas, are fertile ground for business reconversion in the world mafia. I am pretty sure that these days there must even be a sleazy Russian restaurant downtown Caracas...

The latest news is the arrest in Milan airport of William del Nogal. There was an international arrest request for drug trafficking, from a Sicilian judge. Now, how much more banal can one get?

El Nacional (subscription only) also reminds us the distinguished career of del Nogal. In 1993 he tried to influence the Venezuelan stock market where he played, with some other sleazy associates, by exploding a bomb in what was then the best shopping center of Caracas, the CCCT. For this he got 20 years sentence. A light sentence if you ask me since he was also sentenced for murdering a business associate inside an airplane in flight and throwing the body through the door, a body who gruesomely hit the helix with the consequences I let the reader imagine.

Curiously 3 years after del Nogal was again one of the habitués of Las Mercedes Saturday party scene and as model convict returned to his soft jail in El Junquito on Sunday nights. The scandal did not stop del Nogal and his associates to obtain some form of parole in 2000 at which point they happily joined chavista ranks. Business must have been good since as early as 2002 he was reported as financing pro Chavez political activities. Apparently he must also be racking in frequent flyer miles to Buenos Aires since the Argentinean government has asked Interpol to find him too.

But that is not all: del Nogal, together with his 1993 partner in crime Helmeyer have been associated to "the new" PDVSA business and the state security system, DISIP. Apparently we must believe that their expertise in bombing parking lots is enough credential to organize the security system of people such as Nicolas Maduro when he was only a representative at the National Assembly. We would be interested in knowing whether Helmeyer is still in charge of Maduro secret service now that he is the Bolivarian Foreign Minister of Chavez.

Now, can someone explain to me how come two notorious convicted criminals, pre Chavez, have been allowed to join high financial and governmental circles (though after 2002, when the regime started its move away from democracy)?

But they are not the only ones. Another famous corrupt figure from the past, crook banker Orlando Castro, duly condemned for fraud and all sorts of financial crimes in the US and Venezuela is now alive and well, and as Tal Cual dryly commented a few months ago, he is rich again. He has a insurance company and, I was told but could not confirm, a small but fast growing bank. And he is now a supporter of Chavez, of course. There is an extensive article in Spanish detailing the relationship between Castro and Helmeyer, worth reading.

Was not Chavez elected in part to punish all those bankers that stole the country's savings at the beginning of Caldera second term? Is there not a shred of shame left within chavismo?

That is why I can say in all conscience that this Chavez regime is the most corrupt regime in Venezuelan history: not only he has created a new class of thieves and criminals, but he has recycled quite a vile lot from the 4th Republic who have even dared to appear in the social chronicles of Caracas where obviously money buys all, from Venezuelan judges to foreign heads of state.

PS: added much later. Do not miss Miguel explanation on how petty crime starts in Venezuela. Once you get used to leech the government for a living, there is a simple step to cross over to real crime.

-The end-

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chavez new constitution: article 141 (Feathers)

From this:

Sección Segunda: De la administración pública

Artículo 141

La Administración Pública está al servicio de los ciudadanos y ciudadanas y se fundamenta en los principios de honestidad, participación, celeridad, eficacia, eficiencia, transparencia, rendición de cuentas y responsabilidad en el ejercicio de la función pública, con sometimiento pleno a la ley y al derecho.

The Public Administration is at the service of the citizens and is based on the principles of honesty, participation, speed, effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, accountability and responsibility in the exercise of the public function, with total submission to the rule of law.

To this:

Artículo 141

Las administraciones públicas son las estructuras organizativas destinadas a servir de instrumento a los poderes públicos, para el ejercicio de sus funciones, y para la prestación de los servicios. Las categorías de administraciones públicas son: las administraciones públicas burocráticas o tradicionales, que son las que atienden a las estructuras previstas y reguladas en esta constitución y las leyes; y “las misiones”, constituidas por organizaciones de variada naturaleza, creadas para atender a la satisfacción de las más sentidas y urgentes necesidades de la población, cuya prestación exige de la aplicación de sistemas excepcionales, e incluso, experimentales, los cuales serán establecidos por el Poder Ejecutivo mediante reglamentos organizativos y funcionales.

The public administrations are the organizational structures destined to serve as instrument to the public powers, for the exercise of their functions, and for the services they provide. The categories of public administrations are: the bureaucratic or traditional public administrations, that are those that takes care of the structures predicted and regulated in this constitution and the laws; and “the misiones”, constituted by organizations of varied nature, created to take care of the satisfaction of the most felt and urgent necessities of the population, whose benefit demands of the application of exceptional systems, and, even experimental, which will be established by the Executive authority by means of organizational and functional regulations.

What this art. 141 modification proposal means?

The original art. 141 only states the function of public administration, and it states very clear that it is intended to serve the citizens. In this proposed modification, it doesn’t state clearly the function anymore, and tries to define a form to accomplish an unclear function. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but constitutions should only state rights and duties very clearly. The form is rarely a constitutional matter, that is what other laws are made for. Let’s see if I can explain myself better.

This proposed reform has some relevant points that deserve the attention of all their citizens:

1.Public administration would not serve the citizens but through the public powers.

The art. 141 proposal states that public administration, functioning as the traditional Max Weber’s bureaucratic model (used by all the countries, from the former Soviet Union to the United States of America), and functioning also as the famous Chavistas Misiones (welcome to the big bureaucracy elephant world of public administration!), are going to be serving to the public powers (poderes públicos), and not to the citizens. The article modified the wording, it does not say public administration is to serve their citizens anymore, but it says “public administration is a tool to public powers that” . Art. 141 is not clear anymore in defining who the public administration should or not serve.

Why this is not clear if constitutions should be very precise bodies of law?

The devil’s advocate and Chavez can tell me, no! You didn’t understand why I was trying to say, you fool, the Poder Público is also the people´s, represented by this new power called “Citizen power” (or Popular Power). So the public administration, becoming a tool to the public powers and the citizen power will be the same as serving to the people, right? What? No, it’s not! It is not the same to say that people’s rights and duties as a community are the same as individuals’ citizen rights and duties.

It doesn’t have the same meaning.

If one dig deeper into the article that talks about what and whom constitute these “public powers”, one will find that Mr. Chavez is also reforming article 136, the one related to the public powers. In the proposed reform of art 136 the distribution of powers come divided in a territorial manner (popular, municipal, state and national) and as per their functions (legislative, executive, judiciary, citizen and electoral). Chavez is creating two new powers to give the impression of a decentralized autonomy between the government, but the reality is that there is no mention in the constitution that these powers must be autonomous. As a matter of fact, the whole constitutional proposal is aimed at centralized authority, and regulations. That’s why Chavez talks about it as a “block”. The only purpose for a country to structure its government into main powers is only to ensure that they function with autonomy in the most extended sense possible.

Moreover, the important highlight of this art. 136 is that representatives of this new "Citizen power" won’t be constituted by election, but put in by organized human groups. There's no clear wording into how this representatives will be "put" in their jobs, but the reform is very clear in saying that these representatives won’t be “born” through elections. Since those organized human groups won't be able to vote for representatives, the assumption is that some bureaucrat from the socialist party will put these representatives on their jobs and their credibility as unbiased auditors working for the citizens will be very low.

Hence, the “Citizen Power”, the branch of the public powers that will have the same constitutional weight as “individual citizens” in former constitutions, in reality won’t represent the people’s interest but the interest of the people who “put” them there in those jobs. Thus, it’s not the same thing as before the “reform”.

Venezuelans have to consider if this “affidavit” somehow violates the universal declaration of human rights. (art 21, numeral 3?)

What I am getting from all of this? This proposal is telling me, an individual citizen, to surrender my rights and duties regarding public administration to a public power that is not constituted by popular elections, so they can represent me. As a private citizen, as an individual, the only benefit I am getting is that this constitution will consider me an “organic nothing”… which, obviously, is not a benefit at all. My interest as a private citizen won’t be protected whatsoever in this reform and I won’t be able to complain, sue, and watch over the functioning of public administration. Can you imagine which levels will current corruption practices reach?

As a result of this modification, since public administration would not serve directly the people any longer, our money also won’t be working for you constitutionally speaking, but for the interest of the bureaucracy of the party who will control the Venezuelan state. Chavismo already controls it, but with a questionable legitimacy.

In conclusion, our public administration’s monies (Bolivares Fuertes or not) won’t be “ours” anymore, they would be intended for the public powers (and not the citizens), since this constitution is stripping us from our rights as citizens to be served by the state. If we received at the end some type of service form the public administration, we would had to thank Hugo for his graciousness in not taking it all for himself and his varied collection of powers, in his is sharing some breadcrumbs with us. Also, our very Venezuelan traditional right to complain (“derecho a pataleo”) will be gone since we wont have the constitutional right to ask for the services that the public administration owes us since, constitutionally speaking, civil servants are not legally bound to answer to you anymore, citizen of Venezuela.

2. Creation of more bureaucracy.

As consequence of this lack of clarity into whom public administration should serve, our money will be funneled into the already gigantic and very greedy monster of Venezuela’s state bureaucracy, spitting it out and then swallowing it again for another loop (Chavismo always was best at inventing the hardest way to go from point A to point B). I can only think how hard would be for old folks and retired public office personnel to claim for their pensions and social security. It is a horror today where public administration still has to answer to the citizens, it will be hell when you have no right to claim but wait for a mision to pay you whenever they can, or want.

Also, the funny thing is that when the rest of the world is trying to cut bureaucracy, Chavismo makes its goal, in a constitutional way, to make the state as big as it can. The problem with this set up in constitutional stone, is that first of all, it is terribly inefficient, and secondly, if in a few years some folk smarter and less greedy than Chavez and his collection of doofus that work for him come to power, and want to cut bureaucracy, they have to make a constitutional amendment, or propose a constitutional reform about it. That’s why I was writing above that Constitutions shouldn’t be talking about the way things take place. That’s why other bodies of law exist.

3.Why they took out the fundamental principles in which public administration should be based on?

The reform also erased the following from the 1999 original: “Public Administration … based on principles of honesty, participation, speed, effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, ACCOUNTABILITY and responsibility on the exercise of Public service under total submission of the rule of law.

Why erasing all of this? Well, we saw in point 2 that Chavez is not precisely worried about handling money on an effective way since the amount of bureaucracy will become gigantic with this new constitution. It will be OK to misspend money. The public administration won’t have more constitutional accountability since they would not be required to give answers to any citizens on the things they do or not do, or the way they use money for. So, they all can misspend and do whatever they want without worrying of pesky accountability, not that they are too worried right now, but they have to work hard to cover up, and at the end of the day they know they are committing serious crimes to the nation, that the truth will emerge. With this new constitution, it would be only a matter of gossiping in any newspaper but mishandling money won’t be a crime punished it by law. Are you getting where all of this is going? Any official can be caught with a suitcase full of money, and it won’t be a problem since they can excuse it as some public administration affair. It would be much more easy to cover up any money mishandling.

Venezuelans might ask, but why this is so important? Our public administration during the 4th and the 5th republic have been always mediocre, and much very corrupted, so why worry that this article is been modified the way it is?

Because, my dear countryman, Chavistas are trying to wash their hands like Pontius Pilates so when this government falls it will not be possible to prosecute and hunt down the worst offenders to face justice. They want to dip their hands in the money and not be accountable for it, not even work hard to cover up their corruption deals, as simple as that. Bank robbery to the highest level. And, you can imagine the amount of people, citizens and internationals, who are salivating for this to happen, supporting this bullshit.

Graph taken from the official Venezuelan portal of the Venezuelan constitution of 1999.

Do you think the new article 141 reflect this graphic at all? For starters, you can erased the man at the last square, yes, the cartoon of the guy who looks like that Independence hero named Bolivar, talking about honesty and responsibility. And the old woman, she can wait at home for some misiones functionary, who for sure won’t be a catire like the one in the cartoon, to knock her door whenever he is allowed to pay her, or never.

Post written by Feathers, who writes her own blog.

Additional private comments to, Subject: Art 141

-The end-

Friday, September 21, 2007

Chavez new constitution: article 251

Article 251
The Council of State is the highest organization for consulting by the State and the National Government. It will exert its attribution with functional autonomy. Its opinions or decisions will not be binding. Its attributions are 1) Emit an opinion on the matter under consultation 2) Watch over the fulfillment of the constitution and the legal framework 3) Pronounce decisions over the matters that are submitted to its consideration and 4) Recommend policies of national interests on those matters that are of special transcendence.
An organic law will be able to determine other functions and/or other competencies.

Even though article 251 and 252 are linked I did discuss article 252 first for two reasons. It was an easy article to offer as a clear exhibit of Chavez wanting to hold center stage alone and everywhere, to the point of reducing the role of the vice-president to very little even though he can remove and name a vice-president at will. But also because for some unaccountable reason, the electronic highlights that I had made on my PDF “refoma” text were lost on article 251 and I did not realize that it was also modified when I later went on to discuss article 252. In the end it did not matter at all for the discussion of article 252 but it allows me to go into a new point: how the “reforma” manages under a certain cover of superficiality and vacuity to prepare very carefully for future situations where the tiniest of challenge to Chavez could arise, something that I might not have highlighted as well if I had discussed both articles simultaneously.

Article 251 is in fact significantly modified in words though not apparently that much in scope. This is the first hint, of course, that this change must be hiding something.

The original version set a gathering of notables under the direction of the vice president. Nothing much was specified. The original article read: it will be on its capacity to recommend policies of national interest. But now we have 4 items for the Council of State! Fascinating when we think that the 1999 article has yet to be applied! That the council has yet to be named! If we read that in article 252 the council only seats when convoked by the president to discuss items proposed by the president, we do wonder about that need to be specific in limiting the scope of the council. Perhaps chavismo wanted to remove this article altogether and did not dare to? Or perhaps chavismo is planning to use this council to announce or to deal with unpopular policies that Chavez might not want to announce alone?

There is a curious item that goes with that logic of using this Council to deal with the consequences of the new constitution. The original article said that the Council of State could be used by the "Administración Pública", that is, civil service or any branch of the public administration could address directly the Council. That could be the government itself, a state legislature or the sewers administration. Now only the president and the NATIONAL GOVERNEMENT will be able to use the services of this council. Why?

There is in the also modified article 141 an important change: the original text read that the Public Administration was there to serve the citizens. This has been erased and now in the new 141 version the public administration serves the government. Obviously there will be some scheme that will have to oversee the public administration to make sure this one is at the service of the state (and henceforth of the all powerful president). Starting with the vote on this ill called constitutional reform, the public administration branches will lose the ability to consult the Council of State in case they enter into some form of conflict with another administrative branch or, the deity forbids, a direct dependence of the government. Only the government (that is, Chavez direct appointees) will be allowed to start such an administrative inquiry that will rule, we can be sure of that, in favor of the government most of the time. And in the rarest of cases that the State Council might go against something that Chavez wants, well, the decisions are not binding anyway. The beauty of the scheme is that the 5 powers of the state will share the burden of the decision whereas that decision will only benefit the executive power.

There is a last little detail which might not be of much importance but could become very much so. In the original 251 there was just mention of a special law to establish the function and competences of the State Council. In the “reformed article” the law will now require to be "organica". In Venezuelan law that means that the law must be voted by 2/3 of the National Assembly, and can only be modified by a 2/3 vote. Why such a change? The only explanation we can advance at this time is that the Chavez administration indeed has a plan for the Council of State and that it wants this plan to be iron tight to be able to use it for as long as it needs, just in case a new National Assembly could arise (this 251 article could even allow Chavez to use the Council of State to control even the functioning of the National Assembly!)

Or perhaps the aim is elsewhere: the end of decentralization. Any conflict between a non chavista town hall or state house with the chavista central administration could end up in the docket of the Council of State, if this one is ever installed. Now, the parts of the coming system that Chavez is creating and that he is less likely to control tightly are the small town halls and the states where local electoral surprises could still happen (even with the application of article 11). When these ones will enter into conflict with the central administration, something certain to happen as chavismo has clearly stated its desire to end decentralization, to curtail local powers, to “have direct contact with thousands of communes”, town halls and states will have one less recourse to go to if they want to seek redress from the central state. In fact, the revamped Council of State could be used directly against them as a more expedient way than judicial fiat or legislative process. And there will not be a voice from the provinces to defend them since article 252 takes care of that.

Private correspondence about this post to the author can be addressed directly at this address venezuela.constitution.trap @ including the article number in the subject line.

-The end-

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chavez new Constitution: article 230 (Bruni S.)

Commented by Brunilde Sansò.

Old article 230:

The presidential period is of 6 years. The President of the Republic can be reelected immediately, only once, for a new period.

New article 230:

The presidential period is of 7 years. The President of the Republic can be reelected immediately for a new period.


There are several negative aspects concerning this article that I would discuss in three items.

1.-The illegality of the proposal

To understand the whole impact of this modification, one has to understand that before 1999, the Constitution did not even allow a single reelection. The reason was precisely to avoid that one of the many caudillo-type of president that Venezuelans have witnessed in history would use the Constitution to stay in power forever.

In 1999, the Constitution proposed by Chávez introduced, for the first time in modern times, the figure of a reelection and increased the presidential term from 5 to 6 years. However, just a single reelection was allowed.

Now, Chavez's current proposal is twofold: eliminate reelections limit and increase the length of the Presidential term. It means the possibility of holding power for a longer time and being reelected without restrictions.

This concept is simply unconstitutional because of the following two articles, the first being in the Fundamental Principles of the Constitution.
Article 6.-The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its political entities is and will always be democratic, participative, decentralized, alternative, responsible, plural and will have revocable mandates.

Article 342.-The object of the Reform is to partially reform and substitute one or several norms that will not modify the structure and the fundamental principles of the constitutional text.
Since Alternation is a Fundamental Principle underlined in Article 6, the Continuous Reelection proposed in this Reform goes against Article 6. Now, Article 342 says that no Fundamental Principle can be touched by a Constitutional Reform. Therefore, the proposed modification is simply unconstitutional.

2.- The Presidential Asymmetry of power introduced by the proposal

When President Chávez is asked about the dangers of allowing continuous reelection, he always states that the People of Venezuela hold the Sovereignty and that based on that principle, they have the right to decide whether they want the President to stay in power.

If one accepts that logic, then one may ask why the People of Venezuela do not hold that Sovereignty when it is time to reelect a governor or a mayor?

Thus, the fact that this principle of continuous reelection is introduced only for the President of the Republic and not for any other elected official shows a clear Asymmetry of Power that is exacerbated in the Presidential figure.

3.- A de-facto Constitutional dictatorship proposal

Those that provide examples of healthy democracies in which continuous reelection is allowed forget that those cases only occur either in Parliamentary systems or mixed systems with strong parliamentary figures. In Parliamentary systems the Prime Minister has power as long as his/her party allows it; the Leader of the opposition is part of the government and for the other governmental entities, strict separation of powers is the norm. Thus, continuous reelection does not pose a threat to democracy because power is well spread and appropriate opposition representation in power is present.

All the other existing cases where continuous reelection is currently allowed (like Cuba) are, in fact, dictatorships.

President Chávez has already unprecedented power. The Supreme Court, The National Assembly, The People's Ombudsman, The General Prosecutor, the Central Bank and, most importantly, The National Electoral Council, are all totally under his grip. Moreover, the proposed Reform will provide him with even larger and more important powers than those that he has accumulated up to now. In fact, Constitutional scholars claim that no President in the history of Venezuela, not even dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, had requested as many powers in a Constitutional Reform.

Under those circumstances allowing continuous reelection in the Constitution would be the equivalent of handling a dictatorship for life to Hugo Chávez, or to whoever happened to be the President of Venezuela under such a Reformed Constitution.


A related Spanish language version by the author exists here. Though a full translation of this post will come shortly and announced in due time.

Private correspondence abo
ut this post to the author can be addressed directly at this address venezuela.constitution.trap @ including the article number in the subject line.

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Chavez new Constitution: Article 11 (Mousqueton)

Preamble: Most constitutions include two basic sets of articles that define what and who are the subjects of the Constitution. This is; What is the country? and, Who are the nationals of that country?

In the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 the definition of - What is Venezuela? - Is done in Title II, Chapter 1, Articles 10 through 15.

Article 11: “The full sovereignty of the Republic is exercised on the continental and insular spaces,”..... -Click link above to read full text- ....... “public international agreements and by the national legislation” . …….

Comment 1: The first part of the text of the newly proposed article 11 is exactly the same as the one in the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999. The description of the Venezuelan territory in both texts though is extremely thorough by international standards and certainly far more specific than the description in the Constitution of 1961 and its reforms of 1983.

There is a reason for this though, since 1961 substantial changes and legal definitions have been introduced to international laws and more specifically in whole bodies of law such as the Law of the Sea.

While Venezuela was one of the countries that spearheaded the revolutionary United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and a signatory of the final document approved in Montego Bay (1982), Venezuela has not ratified the Convention because it has observations to the articles that deal with the delimitation of territories and more specifically with articles 15, 74, 83 and 121(3).

The Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 though has incorporated all of the legal concepts and benefits of the Convention of the Law of the Sea to the Venezuelan Constitution without agreeing or being bound by the articles that it deems are not in the best interest of Venezuela.
In this article, the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 also incorporated references to the rights of Venezuela over the extraterrestrial space. At this point in time the only practical application of these rights would be the allocation of the orbital slots in what is known as the Clarke geostationary orbit where most communication satellites are located. These slots are allocated by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) of which Venezuela is a member. By including these references though Venezuela has become a pioneer in the pursuit for a United Nations body of legislation that deals with the increasingly controversial use of space.

… “The President of the Republic may decree Special Military Regions for strategic and defense ends, anywhere in the territory and other geographical spaces of the Republic. He may as well decree Special Authorities in situations of contingency, natural disasters, etc.”

Comment 2: The above mentioned two sentences have been added to the original article 11 of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 and is one of the modifications Venezuelans are being asked to vote on. These two sentences though are dangerous, wrong and preposterous in so many ways that I will try my best to be as didactic as possible to explain them.

The last sentence of this paragraph allows the President to decree Special Authorities in “situations of contingency” (“situaciones de contingencia”). The RAE (Royal Spanish Academy) definition of the word “contingencia” (contingency) is: “Posibilidad de que algo suceda o no suceda” (Possibility that something happens or not happens), “Cosa que puede suceder o no suceder” (Thing that might or might not happen). This sentence therefore allows the President to decree Special Authorities for basically any and all reasons; be them real or imagined. The only condition is that they may or may not happen.

Just in case there is any doubt about the unlimited power to appoint Special Authorities in any situation whatsoever the sentence goes on and reinforces this concept by indicating that these authorities can also be appointed for “etc” reasons.

The RAE definition of the word “etc” is: “expr. U. para sustituir el resto de una exposición o enumeración que se sobreentiende o que no interesa expresar. Se emplea generalmente en la abreviatura etc.” (to substitute the rest of an exposition or enumeration that is assumed to be understood or that there is no interest in expressing. Generally It is used in the abbreviation etc.)

While Constitutions are expected to be precise and specific it is a fact that even the best written constitutions are sometimes general and even vague. A constitution though can not be “undetermined” and give powers to a President to be used in “undetermined” situations and in “undetermined” ways.

It should be noted that the intention of this sentence is not to provide the President with special powers in case of civil unrest, natural disaster or other emergency situations. The Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 in Title VIII, Chapter 2 articles 337, 338 and 339 already provides special powers to the President to act in these kind of circumstances and regulates the term and scope of those powers.

Comment 3: The dangers this sentence poses to the Venezuelan democracy though go far beyond the semantic implications herein mentioned.

Nowhere, either in the text of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 or the modifications being proposed today, is there any reference whatsoever to the term “Autoridades Especiales”. There is therefore no reference as to the power that could be granted to these Special Authorities.
It could be inferred though that since they are appointed in “situations of contingency” (whatever that means) they would have more power than the elected officials and/or constitutionally appointed authorities who would be deemed as incapable of handling such situations. Power, that would emanate directly from the President and that is not limited and/or even regulated by the Constitution.

There is also absolutely no reference anywhere as to the term for which these Special Authorities would be appointed, their salary, where their budget will come from, who are they accountable to, what is their responsibility, what is the scope of their powers and/or what qualifications would be needed to be appointed as such. Under the proposed text anyone could be appointed a Special Authority with absolute power even if the person has a police and/or judicial record and, what is most intriguing, even if they are foreigners.

For all intents and purposes, this last sentence of the proposed modification to article 11 renders the rest of the Constitution useless. It matters little what the Constitution says, because the President can appoint Special Authorities with powers over and above the power of any elected authority and/or constitutionally appointed government official. The President could appoint Special Legal, Economic, Constitutional, Social, Health, Education and even Religious Authorities to oversee and even decide over all aspects of government and/or the branches of power.

Just in case there is any doubt though, the first sentence of the paragraph being proposed in the amendment of article 11 provides an air tight alibi for the President to overcome any legal, jurisprudent and/or constitutional arguments against the use of this power.

Comment 4: In the first sentence of this paragraph the President is granted the power to decree Special Military Regions for “strategic” and defense purposes. Here again language is used loosely to provide the President with an overwhelming power that goes far beyond the Constitution and certainly common sense.

According to the RAE, the definition of “estrategico” (strategic) is the following: “De importancia decisiva para el desarrollo de algo” (Of decisive importance for the development of something). This sentence therefore allows the President to decree a Special Military Region for the only purpose of accomplishing something; whatever that might be.

Special security areas or buffer zones in and around military and valuable infrastructure installations are perfectly normal in every country except for the fact that in this case the intended purpose of the text is not to allow the President to create such security zones but instead to allow the President to be able to create Special Military Regions over vast parts and even the whole Venezuelan territory.

The word “regions” is only mentioned 4 times in the text of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 and, except for the text proposed to modify article 11 and a reference to sea regions in the text of article 67, none whatsoever in the text of the other proposed amendments. In every case, except in one, the term it is used as an adjective and in a general way. This should not come as a surprise since “regions” are not part of the political division of Venezuela.

In one case though, the word “region” is used to identify and describe specific territories. By doing so, the Constitution creates precedence as to what a “region” is understood to be and what a Special Military Region would or could encompass.

Article seven in the Temporary Provisions of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 creates three regions that encompass all of the Venezuelan territory. Each region includes two or more States and they are created for the purpose of electing native representatives to the National Assembly.

The definition of “regions” is therefore set by the same Constitution in these articles and by precedence they do apply to the definition of Special Military Regions.

As for the administration of these regions, there isn’t a single reference in the Constitution or the modifications being proposed as to how or who would administer these Special Military Regions or, for that matter, what are the rights of the people who live in these regions. In Title V, Chapter II, Articles 236 (5) of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 though, the President is granted absolute authority over the National Armed Forces and appointed Commander in Chief. He therefore is the supreme authority of the armed forces and hence the supreme authority over the territories under military control.

Having absolute power over “Special Military Regions” and the Constitutional unlimited power to appoint “Special Authorities” for whatever reason, gives the President absolute power over the Venezuelan territory and the Venezuelan people.

It should be noted that under the proposed modification to the Constitution Special Military Regions do not need to be occupied by the military. Further, the elected authorities and officials within the Special Military Regions may continue to act as such but subject to the decisions of their respective “Special Authority”.

Conclusion: It matters little what the other proposed modifications to the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 may be; it also matters little what the rest of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 may say because, with these two sentences, the President is granted absolute power over everything and everyone in Venezuela while rendering the rest of the Constitution mute.

The implications of the modifications introduced to article 11 are not a matter of ideology or even political, economic or social beliefs. For all intents and purposes you can be a socialist, communist or extreme capitalist and still this modification would be absolutely wrong.

All the other modifications to the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 that are being proposed have to do with the business and structure of government. In article 11 though Venezuelans are being asked to surrender all their rights to the Venezuelan land and their own freedom by giving absolute power over them to the President; whomever that might be.

While writing these comments I can not help but remember the words of a song, “Solamente Una Vez” (Only one time), composed by Agustin Lara while working in Buenos Aires with some close friends. Most youngsters will not know who Agustin Lara was but they will most likely remember the song since it was part of a Luis Miguel CD (“Segundo Romance”).

The third verse of that song reads; “Una vez nada más se entrega el alma, con la dulce y total renunciación.” (Only once you surrender your soul with the sweetness of total resignation).

Most people believe this song was composed by Agustin Lara to a woman he met in Buenos Aires. The truth though is that this song was composed to a man; his old and dear friend Jose Mojica, when Agustin Lara learned that he had decided to become a Catholic priest even though he was over 40 years old. This song is not about the love of a man for a woman but about the ultimate sweet sacrifice you can do for God; to surrender your soul.

By asking to vote yes for the amendment of article 11 of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 Venezuelans are not being asked to choose a political system and/or model of government but indeed they are being asked to surrender their soul and with it, their dignity, their history, their territory and their expectations; a sacrifice that is only reserved for God.


Spanish language version of this post at: [to be announced]

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