Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dreams of constitutional repression

That ever self serving pseudo panacea of our sub continent, calling for a constitutional assembly to solve problems that politicians have no resolve to deal with directly, is being invoked all around. After all, the brilliant example of Chavez who called for a constitutional assembly to solve Venezuelan problems is there for all: not only he did not solve any of his country problems, but he made them worse, and he certainly did solve the financial future of his relatives and friends, ending himself as a president for life.

These weeks we heard from different points a call for some form of constitutional assembly, and in all cases it comes from a group of people that are unable of unwilling to have their way and thus want to use the mechanism.  Let's not be afraid of words here, what they all want really is a soft, legal repression, that will silence down those that are not allowing them to get their way.

Let's start with Brazil of Dilma Rousseff who has never being characterized by her creativity nor her own political following. She is calling for a constitutional revision process as the only way she can come up to quiet down the brewing revolt in her cities. That in ten years of PT rule through her and Lula they have not being able, or willing, to face the problems of Brazilian politics, even trying to benefit from them as the corruption "mensalao" case under Lula shows, is not something that she is very intent to apologize for. In fact, her latest deal, praised as democratic by many people who should know better, maybe be supported by a PT who finds in it a way to stop ruling as a coalition, something that, well, hindered some of the most extreme proposals that rest in their filing cabinets.

Less obvious but still along the lines is coming from the Bachelet campaign team who wants her back in office. They are trying to have people forget about the poor readiness of her administration in the earthquake that happened a few days before she left office. They think that a constitutional proposal is a good scheme. Hopefully in Chile there are a few minds that understand that even though the constitution is a legacy of Pinochet, changing it brutally is not necessarily the solution: one smart wit calls it a "lyrical coup".

In Colombia of course we have the other naked extreme: the FARC that uses a constitutional assembly as a way to pressure Santos to cave in their demands. This has little chance to fly because Colombia has changed her constitution not that long before Venezuela and the change has worked much better, no comparison, than the one in Venezuela. But the FARC knows that right now, as they are in a defensive position, not to call it cornered, their only chance to obtain an amnesty is by silencing those seeking redress for the crimes committed by the FARC. They thus put forward outrageous demands to have Santos cave in. They are of course pushed by Cuba and Venezuela who desperately need that second corner stone of an anti US league, next door to Panama. As such a constitutional assembly in Colombia would be nothing more than a repression of those intent on punishing the FARC for its crimes, just as the Venezuelan constitution of 1999 was a way to "forgive" the coup-mongers of 1992 who went from a life of violence to a life of obscene corruption.

Which brings us to Venezuela where election-stolen Capriles has finally admitted that going for a constitutional assembly may be the only way to get rid of the hyper corrupt regime issued of 1999. In fact, some even are suggesting that we could ask outright to a simple return to the 1961 constitution through a referendum.

Besides the many legal and electoral obstacles that such a proposal has in a Venezuela dominated by the mob, and worthy of several post of their own, this proposal of Capriles sounds like a little bit too little and too late. What he is doing, in part, is using the idea to silence (repress?)  in his own camp those who demand more action from his part.  Let's not forget that Diego Arria had made a new constitution his main, if only, plank for the 2012 primaries. Just as it was in 1999, a constitutional change is not going to solve the problems of the country who know include a wealthy mob that will sabotage any, ANY, regime that does not oblige them.

To all of these characters, and not wanting to sound pro US, I will remind them that the US has had the same Constitution in effect since 1789, duly amended through extensive processes that required quite a lot of discussion and compromise between the parties involved. The UK still does not have a constitution. France, for all of its apparent historical instability, had no constitution between 1870 and 1946 and the current one is effective since 1958. What is common among them (and other such countries)? That any constitution, or lack thereof, is only as good as the people who apply it.

That is why the current LatAm examples described above are simply ways for a political group to distract from the real work required in each and every country, in each and every reality. They are dreams of legal repression of the antagonistic sides (though in Venezuela at least Capriles has some valid points as he is dealing with the mob).


  1. Constitution is only worth its weight when the people actually live by it whole heartily and fight for its values. Bravo Daniel, another splendid post.

  2. margareth12:53 AM

    I think now is the perfect time to protest just like Brazil. Leopoldo Lopez announced it already...........

  3. Boludo Tejano1:15 AM

    IIRC, Bolivia has had eleven constitutions. As Chavismo's performance shows, what is the use of a constitution if the constitution is not followed? As there are always vivos ready to take a shortcut, the laws and the constitution the laws are supposed to follow are simply pieces of paper.

    Enforce the constitution you have before you consider rewriting it.

  4. Charly3:40 AM

    In the case of Brazil, there seems to be a disconnect between Roussef Government and the citizenry. The message was loud and clear, provide services for the money gouged from the taxpayer, no mas claro canta un gallo. However responding to this message takes guts and that is were the problem lies so a new constitution is a good stalling alternative. As for Capriles thinking about a new constitution, now is not the right time, paper is in short supply and should serve serve more critical uses than printing what would be V.27 I believe.

  5. Daniel, you make good arguments, but as a matter of legal practicality, if Capriles were to become president with the current TSJ, CNE, and AN, none of whom he could legally change, how much can he hope to accomplish? All of these positions need to be replaced. Not with Capriles loyalists, but with the very best Venezuela has to offer. What if the goal of the CA was not to re-write the constitution, but to reset the existing one by re-establishing the independent institutions of democracy?

    1. A collapse of the presidency at this point would mean at the very least also early legislative elections. The situation is different than 6 months ago and doing a CA election with the current CNE is not a real option anyway.

  6. Putting your opinions on Constitutional Politics aside, the pressing issue is how Capriles could ever function with the TSJ, the FGR, the Contraloría all in the hands of the mafiosi. Heck, the Constitutional Assembly doesn't even have to write a new Constitution - it can simply be called to change the characters, and leave the current Constitution in place, give or take a few ammendments.

    1. well, of course! But how do you elect a constitutional assembly with Tibisay in charge?

      The other thing is that the economic situation is dire enough that a constitutional assembly is not a good way to deal with our troubles. Let's not forget that there is a need to raise the 3-4 million signatures needed to call for a referendum, in a Tascon list atmosphere. THEN to hold and win the referendum. THEN elect the assembly. Then swear it in hoping that we do retain a majority in it. THEN debate and vote what is needed to change. Chavez, with all in his favor, still needed 8 months. Capriles and the MUD will need at least a full year, if all goes well.

      I think that a collapse of the regime is easier to obtain..... What Capriles really did is to put pressure on chavismo and its TSJ in that if you do not rule against the elections or at least give us a real CNE so that we can have an ordered transition over a couple of elections, THEN we will have no choice but go the CA way.


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