[News] Venezuela Knows What it's Doing

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
living generation."

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 
warn against.

Angelo Rivero Santos is the deputy chief of mission of the Embassy of 
the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

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