Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What can Venezuela do to counter Chavez autocratic wishes?

Last December we did stop Chavez latest bid to ensure power for a generation. And yet we are confronted to the need of stopping him once again. In recent months Chavez and his acolytes, afraid as their fortunes start fading, have decided to break down their last restraints and let us see what they are really about. Measures are diverse, from the banning of politicians favored at polls to a set of two dozen decree laws that will allow among many things Chavez to establish rationing cards for all in Venezuela, rule the army as if this was his own militia, seize the property of whomever he does not like, centralize all from his office even if it paralyzes the country. Already new measures are in the works, such as a communication law that will allow Chavez to close this blog as he sees fit, China style, or the nationalization of transport industry to control deliveries of every food staple in Venezuela, favoring of course the districts that vote for him, effectively making elections totally meaningless.

The only amazing thing here is the lack of reaction in general from the populace, too busy in its own survival to pay much attention to the subtleties of complex laws which real objective is control, and only that. Amazingly some people that should have known better waited until a week ago to confess that they are finally getting worried. Obviously they did not read the right blogs who have been predicting our bleak future long ago. But if those people can be excused by distance or naiveté, the political class in Venezuela cannot. After all, as we see on TV or read on papers, the people who most talk against the decree laws are again NGO and civil sectors such as students. Only some politicians, to their great credit, are finally starting to shift the election away from excessive pothole fixing. Julio Borges for one, is giving a much less "blandengue" image than what he used to, at long last.

Yet, can we condemn politicians wholesale? What can they really do? The fact of the matter is whether we like it or not, whether we like our opposition politicians or not, whether chavismo wants us to riot in the streets or stay home cowed by the crime rate terror, all solutions pass through winning as many states as we can win next November. Let's see why.

Article 350

These days this famous article that constitutionally allows for civil disobedience in case of governmental constitutional violation is into many mouths. And truly, for the first time it is worth discussing it even if some luminaries like Teodoro Petkoff ridicule that option because it comes without a manual. Allow me to give you an application example.

Imagine that on November 23 the opposition wins 10 states, including Zulia, Carabobo, Aragua and Miranda. Namely, more than half of the Venezuelan population will be under opposition governor rule. Their possible success would play a determining rile not only for 2011 elections where one of them will be the most likely candidate, but also as a barrage against further Chavez encroachment. But their success will depend on how able they will be to rule, which means to roll back the recent law decrees of Chavez. That is where the 350 appeal comes into play.

Let's say that within a few weeks at least 8 of these governors go to the High Court to post a legal challenge. Let's say that they also go to the CNE to put up a referendum petition to revoke the bills. Let say now that after 2-3 months nothing happens, that under technicalities their petition is blocked. Then they simply can declare upon a notarized document that since they are called to one day exert higher functions, they are declaring now that any agreement made by the Venezuelan state through the 26 decree laws with any Venezuelan or foreign national, or with any foreign country will not be recognized as violating the present constitution. Immediately the Venezuelan credit overseas collapses as nobody will loan money to Chavez unless they can do so completely outside the 26 decrees law because they could face in the future a legal and constitutional default. In short, Venezuela would become too much of an unreliable business partner.

Of course, the legal battle would be hard and international courts would in the end probably rule against Venezuela anyway since no serious country carries anything equivalent to article 350 (1). But the psychological impact would speed up Chavez deterioration or force him to withdraw the laws or accept the challenge of a referendum to vote down the law. He might or might not win it, but odds are that with 10 governors campaigning actively and providing resources to a vigorous campaign Chavez might not win, the more so that the governors at no point are questioning the right of Chavez to remain in office until 2011. But that Chavez will be pushed closer to some form of resignation procedure is clear for all, in particular for the chavistas that are starting to get tired of him.

High stakes game but almost brilliant, no? But it has a catch! You need still to win 10 governorships.

Constitutional Assembly, assorted referendums and National Assembly recall elections

These are three other ways to counter the effect of the enabling law decrees and the laws about to be enacted, based in part on these awful totalitarian intended decrees (note: that their application is difficult if not impossible is not really relevant, the part of it that can be actually applied is for a totalitarian like control of at least some group of people within the country).

In short.

A Constitutional Assembly requires a large amount of signatures, a previous referendum, an election of the said assembly, a new constitution and its approval. It can take a year or two to take effect and thus it allows for two years of application of controls that might make any new constitution a moot point. Not to mention that there is always the possibility that chavismo might win it and even though they will back down on many points they might get what they want the most, two more elections for Chavez.... It woudl be a cumbersome procedure, of result not guaranteed. It would be best to apply after Chavez as a way to clean up the judicial mess left by him. But right now the problem is Chavez and against him alone it is not really that effective.

The different referendums are also an attractive option but with control of TSJ and CNE, the way the questions are put on the ballot can diminish the impact of any vote, not to mention that the TSJ might declare unconstitutional to vote against certain laws or demand instead a series of referendums spaced in time. It will be a protracted war with the ballot in chavista CNE hands and thus far from certain positive outcome.

Recall Election of the National Assembly if for me the best approach as I am sure that at least a third of the sitting deputies can be kicked out no matter how many obstacles the CNE puts in front. That by itself would be enough to disequilibrate chavismo power and break his current majority. The more so that the new wave of deputies will be highly motivated and dig and dig where chavismo wants it the least. By December 2009 we might get a brand new National Assembly with lots and lots of headaches for Chavez.

The catch for all of these options? You need again to win at least 10 governorships. The more so that you will require people to sign on many petitions that will become newer Tascon Lists. You will get that only if you have ten governors taking the front battle and willing to risk their necks if you risk at least your name on a list.

What to do?

Well, we must start by the beginning, win as many governorships and mayor's office as we can. This requires a unified campaign that is able to modulate according to the districts its message. If in Caracas it is OK to stress constitutional violation and Chavez autocracy, to motivate traditional opposition to drop once and for all its abstentionist attitude, elsewhere it might require much more promises of potholes fixing than anti Chavez rhetoric. Not too difficult if you ask me since in most states the chavista officials that got elected 4 years ago have a reputation of absentee landlords. If opposition candidates project the image that they will be there to protect constituent interests, if anything because Chavez will not give them an helicopter to travel around like he gave to folks like Diosdado Cabello who has not been trapped in traffic jams since he is governor, well, it might just be enough to get these ten states needed.

Will the political class rise to the occasion? Nothing less certain but at least it gives meek hints of moving the right way.

But there is one thing that readers of this blog who vote in Venezuela can do: to go and vote and push anyone around them to vote.

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1) Article 350 of the constitution reads in Spanish:

"Artículo 350. El pueblo de Venezuela, fiel a su tradición republicana, a su lucha por la independencia, la paz y la libertad, desconocerá cualquier régimen, legislación o autoridad quecontraríe los valores, principios y garantías democráticos o menoscabe los derechos humanos." Article 350. The Venezuelan people, faithful to its republican tradition, to its fight for independence, to peace and liberty, will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that will go against the values, principles and democratic guarantees or diminish human rights.

Which is exactly what Chavez has been doing this year.

-The end-

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