[News] Venezuela Knows What it's Doing
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 29 18:11:30 EST 2007
Venezuela Knows What it's Doing
By Angelo Rivero Santos
The Los Angeles Times
November 28, 2007
In recent weeks, U.S. policymakers and pundits have warned that a set
of constitutional reforms being considered in Venezuela are but a
step toward dictatorship.
A little calm, and context, is in order. Since President Hugo
Chavez's first election in 1998 and his most recent reelection in
2006, Venezuela has undergone a dramatic revolution in peace and
democracy. The Venezuelan government aggressively works to expand
political participation, create an equitable and sustainable economy
and address long-standing social deficits.
The numbers indicate that the changes are working. The economy has
entered its fourth year of consecutive growth, poverty has fallen
from 55.1% of the country in 2003 to 30.4% in 2006, and Venezuelans
are the second-most-likely population in the region to call their
government "very democratic." Venezuela is slowly establishing the
basis for a new model of democracy and development -- "socialism of
the 21st century," as it has been termed -- one founded on
grass-roots democratic participation, a social economy and equality
in access to vital services such as healthcare and education.
To deepen those changes, Chavez in August proposed 33 reforms to the
1999 constitution aimed at helping to speed the redistribution of
national resources to Venezuela's neediest; to decentralize political
power and grant communities more say in federal affairs; and to
outline the legal foundations of the country's new system. After the
reforms were proposed, the National Assembly debated the reforms in
three rounds, approving a final slate of 69 reforms in late October.
But unlike traditional political debates, the discussions of the
reforms occurred throughout Venezuela and were open to massive public
participation. In a 47-day period -- from Aug. 16 to Oct. 7 -- about
9,020 public events were held and 80,000 phone calls made to a
special hotline, mechanisms through which the Venezuelan people were
free to offer opinions and critiques. More than 10 million copies of
the reforms were distributed to the public, and one poll found that
more than 77% of the Venezuelan people read them. The reforms are set
to be voted on in a national referendum Sunday -- leaving their fate
in the hands of the Venezuelan people.
One reform would extend the presidential term to seven years and do
away with term limits. Of course, the president would still have to
face regular elections and the recall referendum, an innovative
democratic mechanism that allows the Venezuelan people to cut short
the term of any elected official. Another set of reforms would codify
new forms of public property while restating rights to private
ownership. Another reform would limit certain political liberties
during national emergencies while maintaining key due-process rights,
in keeping with international standards.
Critics tend to ignore many of the most progressive reforms. One
would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or health.
Another would lower the voting age to 16 -- following a similar move
in Austria this year. Still other reforms would formalize the right
to adequate housing and the right to free public education, create a
social security fund for the self-employed, protect Afro-Venezuelan
heritage and guarantee the full rights of prisoners.
Proposing that a constitution be reformed is consistent with
democratic norms. And as societies change, so too should their laws
and constitutions. As Thomas Jefferson once remarked, "No society can
make a perpetual constitution. ... The earth belongs always to the
As with any proposal for change, debate and dissent are to be
expected. But what critics have missed is that these reforms are
democratic and have been widely discussed by the people. More
important, it is the people who will decide whether the reforms succeed.
Venezuela is changing, and this change continues in peace and
democracy. The national referendum is nothing to fear, and nothing to
Angelo Rivero Santos is the deputy chief of mission of the Embassy of
the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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