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-

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