Venezuela's Constitutional Reform

This blog was created by a group of bloggers to explain to the outside world why the Venezuelan constitutional reform is dangerous for Venezuelan democracy.

Nov 30, 2007

Organization post, always on top

This blog compiles studies on the constitutional reform in Venezuela as it has been examined by a group of bloggers and their readers. It is a team effort.

Each post title includes the Article number and the name of the author of the said article. The sequential index is on the right margin. Each post will include at the end the link to the original publication and any translation that might exist.

There is also a section with some important newspaper articles, constitutional texts and also some general comments post that have been added to help understand. These are listed on the right side too.

Note that there is a mirror blog in Spanish that includes many of these articles translated but also some original information in Spanish.

If you wish to contact the authors of the different posts, please write to the address indicated on the left side of this blog and include in the subject line the article number and the name of the author. Most authors have access to the same e-mail and will check on occasion. Some prefer to be written to directly, which is also indicated at the bottom of the page.

Alternatively you can seek the link of the original publication and read what comments were made at the time and leave an additional note.

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Nov 29, 2007


In the comment thread of the popular Venezuela News & Views blog I engaged in a discussion with a fellow blogger (Citizen Feathers) about the current political situation in Venezuela. After posting comments back and forth we were able to iron out our discrepancies and agree on everything except for one issue. I promised Feathers that I would address this issue in a separate comment but due to unforeseen circumstances I was not able to keep my word.

Even though late, I am herewith posting my comments on that issue not only because I gave Feathers my word but because I believe the issue is today more relevant than ever.

I believe that to answer the vote/not vote question we need to take into account two different considerations. One is the constitutional and legal implications of the decision and the other is the personal implications of that decision.

Let me start with the constitutional and legal implications.

The Bolivarian Constitution grants every citizen the right to vote. This right is also a prerogative because voting is not mandatory and, except for “referendums” (articles 72, 73 and 74) where a minimum number of voters is required, a majority vote is enough to approve the election of any government official. This means that, under the constitution, the lack of voter participation in a general election does not make an election less valid and/or illegal in any way.

The right to vote can be exercised by Venezuelans in basically two situations.
  1. To elect government officials in general elections
  2. In “Referendums”
    • To revoke the mandate of an elected government official (Article 72) (Requires participation of a minimum of 25% of voters)
    • To approve or repeal laws, measures and /or amendments and reforms to the Constitution (Article 73) (Requires participation of a minimum of 25% of voters)
    • To revoke laws passed by the National Assembly and/or the President (Article 74) (Requires the participation of a minimum of 40% of voters)
Articles 341 (4) and 344 mandate that constitutional amendments and reforms are subject to referendum and therefore the rules of article 73 apply in both cases meaning that the participation of 25% of the voters is required to approve the referendum.

General elections are partisan political processes were citizens are requested by politicians and/or political parties to endorse their candidacy as well as their political programs and/or ideology.

Referendums though are not intended to be partisan but instead are electoral processes were citizens are asked to vote based on their conscience and/or believe. Indeed, the votes on a referendum are basically votes on principles. They might have political, social and even economic implications but they are not partisan by nature.

I am not going to stress how important it is to vote for representatives in general elections even if they end up accounting for only a minority representation because that is milk that has already been spilled.

I will concentrate on analyzing the current “referendum” electoral process and separate what is legal, constitutional or not within this process.

In the current process the President, as per article 342 of the constitution, submitted an “initiative” of constitutional reform to the National Assembly for its discussion and approval.

The National Assembly, according to article 343 of the constitution, had two years to discuss and approve or not the Presidential constitutional reform “initiative”. In order to do so, the National Assembly had to comply with discussing the proposed articles in three separate sessions.

To understand why article 343 of the Bolivarian Constitution calls for three separate discussions of the constitutional reform “initiative” in three separate sessions of the National Assembly we need to understand first, what is the role of the National Assembly in the constitutional reform process?

The National Assembly has no power to change or add anything to a constitutional reform “initiative”. Once the “initiative” has been filed by either the President, 15% of the voters and even by the National Assembly itself every constitutional reform “initiative” has to follow the same process and it can not be altered in any way or form by the National Assembly.

The Bolivarian Constitution grants the right to the President, the people and the National Assembly to file constitutional reform “initiatives”. These “initiatives” are documents that have to be voted “as is” on a referendum with no changes whatsoever. Otherwise, the National Assembly would be the only one with the power to make a constitutional reform and that is not what the Bolivarian Constitution mandates.

So, why then the National Assembly has to discuss the constitutional reform “initiative” in three sessions?

Well, the first discussion is intended as a general and procedural discussion to establish if the constitutional reform “initiative” falls within the limited scope of what constitutes a reform under the constitution and if such has complied with the requirements set forth in the constitution. For example, the President by himself can not file a constitutional reform “initiative” unless it has been approved by the “council of ministers”. By the same token, any citizen and/or party can not file a constitutional reform “initiative” unless it is supported by at least 15% of the registered voters.

In the first discussion, the National Assembly would verify all the procedural aspects of the reform and to do so it might need to ask the executive branch to submit a copy of the minutes of the council of ministers where the “initiative” was approved or ask the CNE to verify the signatures of the voters filing the “initiative” and certify that they account for a minimum of 15% of all registered voters. The National Assembly would also need to certify that the “initiative” is not being submitted to “referendum” twice during the same constitutional period. After the procedural aspects have been verified and cleared by the National Assembly the constitutional reform “initiative” would be ready for a second discussion.

According to article 343 of the constitution the second discussion should be by Titles and Chapters as it may be the case. There is a reason for this as well. The Bolivarian Constitution is organized in Titles, Chapters, Sections, Articles, Items and Transitory Provisions.

Each Title sets the general scope of the matter that is to be legislated under that title and each of the Chapters and Sections provide more specific definitions within the scope set forth by title and thereon by each division and subdivision.

For example, Title V of the constitution legislates what is the scope, powers and responsibilities of the National Public Power. Title V has five Chapters, one for each branch of the National Public Power (Legislative, Executive, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral). Each Chapter in turn has a number of Sections that deal with specific matters concerning each branch of power.

The powers or attributions of the President are set forth in Title V, Chapter II Section II articles 236 and 237 of the constitution. All and any powers of the President are included exclusively in this section and can not be included anywhere else in the constitution. This provides a conceptual unity to every Title, Chapter and Section in the constitution and avoids the powers of the President to be scattered in multiple articles through out the constitutional text. Every single matter in the constitution is legislated in the same way and this is what constitutes the “structure of the constitution”.

The intent of the second discussion is therefore to make sure that the constitutional reform “initiative” does not modify, corrupt and/or change in any way the structure of the constitution.

Many and perhaps even most articles of the constitutional reform “initiative” submitted by the President to the National Assembly modify the structure of the constitution. For example, in the modified text of article 11 the President is granted the power to create “Special Military Regions anywhere in the territory and to appoint Special Authorities” by decree.

The problem is that article 11 is part of Title II, of the constitution that deals with the Geographical Space and Political Division and more specifically part of Chapter I of that title that deals exclusively with the Geographical Space. Granting new powers to the President in this article is an open violation and modification of the structure of the constitution since such powers can only be included in Title V, Chapter II, Section II of the constitution that deals with the attributions or powers of the President.

The National Assembly should have identified this and other violations and/or modifications to the structure of the constitution in the second discussion of the President’s constitutional reform “initiative”.

The Constitution mandates that the third discussion of the constitutional reform should be article by article. This discussion is intended to weed out any violations to the “Fundamental Principles” of the constitution.

For example, the modified text of article 230 provides for the unlimited re-election of the President. This modification is in open violation of Title I – Fundamental Principles - article 6 of the constitution and therefore such modification is in fact unconstitutional. There are many more articles in the President’s constitutional reform “initiative” that are unconstitutional and they should have been identified by the National Assembly during the mandated third discussion of the initiative.

After the three discussions the National Assembly has to either approve or reject the constitutional reform “initiative”. The National Assembly though has only the power to reject the reform under procedural grounds because under the constitution it has no power to decide over constitutional issues.

In order for the National Assembly to reject a constitutional reform “initiative” on constitutional grounds it would first have to submit its findings as well as the “initiative” to the Supreme Court on consultation and ask the court to issue an interpretation ruling - article 266 (6). If the ruling of the Supreme Court supports their findings then the National Assembly can reject the “initiative” on constitutional grounds.

The Supreme Court on the other hand can not nullify the constitutional reform “initiative” even if it finds that indeed it is unconstitutional because under the constitution the power to nullify can only be exercised “after the fact”. The Supreme Court can issue though an interpretation ruling that bounds every court of the judicial system should the decision of the National Assembly to reject the constitutional reform “initiative” be challenged in a court of law.

A reform of the constitution is a very delicate matter and that is why the constitutional reform process is a long and mostly legal endeavor. It was not intended to be taken lightly and in a rush. The framers of the constitution foresaw these conditions and therefore decided to give the National Assembly up to two years to approve or reject a constitutional reform “initiative”.

Some people, including my fellow blogger Citizen Feathers, argue that they do not believe they should vote because if the constitutional reform “initiative” is unconstitutional then the approval of the reform by the National Assembly would also be unconstitutional and their vote would only validate such unconstitutionality. This argument is not accurate though.

Given the fact that the National Assembly does not have the power to decide on constitutional matters and/or change or alter in anyway a constitutional reform “initiative” and, lacking an interpretation ruling from the Supreme Court for whatever reason, including a majority decision not to ask for a Supreme Court ruling, the National Assembly has no other alternative but to approve any constitutional reform “initiative” that has complied with the procedural process mandated by the constitution. This would be a valid, constitutional and legal decision even if the findings during the discussion process support the argument that the “initiative” is unconstitutional. In essence, the National Assembly has the power to approve a constitutional reform “initiative” that is clearly unconstitutional and subject it to a referendum.

The CNE on the other hand has no other choice but to comply with the decision of the National Assembly and organize a referendum. As for the Supreme Court, there is nothing the court can do until the “initiative” is approved by the voters and it is sanctioned by the President. Only when the unconstitutional reform is sanctioned by the President the reform becomes illegal and the Supreme Court has the power to move and nullify the reform.

This is what the Bolivarian Constitution mandates and though in the current circumstances it would seem unfair the fact is that these provisions were included by the framers of the constitution to protect the rights of the people and the democratic system of government.

In constitutional matters it is important to understand - What is unconstitutional? - What is illegal? - and, when an unconstitutional provision becomes illegal?

Having said this, it should be noted that in the current constitutional reform process the National Assembly has not followed the above mention procedures as mandated by the constitution and, by not doing so, has rendered the whole process both unconstitutional and illegal.

In the current process the National Assembly has not complied with discussing the President’s constitutional reform “initiative” in three separate sessions as mandated in article 343 of the constitution. The approval of the “initiative” is therefore unconstitutional and illegal.

Further, the National Assembly has illegally and unconstitutionally modified the Presidential constitutional reform “initiative” by introducing additional articles to such initiative without having the power to do so. The constitutional reform therefore is not anymore a Presidential “initiative” and it is not a National Assembly “initiative” either since it has not been properly filed and/or discussed as such. By doing so the National Assembly has arrogated on themselves powers that are only granted by the constitution to the members of a National Constituent Assembly.

Last but not least, the National assembly has made a mockery of the constitutional reform process by sponsoring a national debate that was a useless and futile travesty because under the constitution no change could be made to the President’s constitutional reform “initiative” once it was filed with the National Assembly. As a matter of fact, it is the President who should have encouraged that debate before sending his constitutional reform “initiative” to the National Assembly when changes could have been introduced.

Therefore, the first constitutional and legal conclusions that we can reach about the current constitutional reform process are the following:

  1. The President has complied with the constitution by submitting to the National Assembly a constitutional reform “initiative” approved in the council of ministers.
  2. The National Assembly undertook a legal but futile and useless national debate of that “initiative” making a mockery of the constitutional reform process.
  3. The National Assembly has illegally approved the President’s constitutional reform “initiative” without complying with the discussion of such in three separate sessions. This lack of due process makes the approval of the Presidential “initiative” not only unconstitutional but illegal as well.
  4. The National Assembly has illegally modified the original Presidential constitutional reform “initiative” by adding to it new provisions. By arrogating upon themselves powers that the constitution does not grant to the National Assembly representatives, they have rendered the approved constitutional reform both illegal and unconstitutional.
  5. Many of the modifications to the constitution included in the Presidential constitutional reform “initiative” are unconstitutional and hence the “initiative” should have been rejected by the National Assembly after requesting and obtaining an interpretation ruling from the Supreme Court.
  6. The Supreme Court and for that matter every other judge in the country have abrogated on their duty to comply with the constitution by not challenging the illegal and unconstitutional approval of the so called constitutional reform by the National Assembly.
  7. Even though under the constitution (articles 26 and 27) every citizen has the right to file a “recurso de amparo constitucional” (Habeas Corpus) in any Venezuelan court against the unconstitutional and illegal approval of the constitutional reform “initiative” by the National Assembly, not a single citizen and/or political party, to my knowledge, has filed a complaint.
I hate to say it but, while Feathers was wrong in believing that the National Assembly could not legally approve a constitutional reform “initiative” that is clearly unconstitutional, she is certainly absolutely right when she says that this specific constitutional reform “initiative” approved by the National Assembly is illegal and unconstitutional. Therefore, her argument about validating the illegal reform with her vote does have merit and indeed makes sense. Not that I agree with her point of view but, in all fairness, it is a valid argument.

The ineptitude and ignorance with which the constitutional reform has been handled by the National Assembly is nothing short of mind boggling. All they had to do was discuss the initiative in three sessions, avoid consulting the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the initiative, something they had the power to do, and approve the initiative with no modifications. That was it!

The reform “initiative” would still have been unconstitutional but the discussion and approval process as well as the referendum would have been legal and constitutional. From there on, it would have been up to the Supreme Court to challenge the reform on constitutional grounds once it had been sanctioned by the President but, given the composition of the court, the government certainly had the upper hand in avoiding that challenge.

Instead of this simple and clean violation of the constitution the National Assembly decided to mess up the process and now the government is tangled up with an illegal and unconstitutional reform “initiative”, an illegal and unconstitutional approval of the reform “initiative” by the National Assembly and, hence, an illegal and unconstitutional referendum.

By doing so, under article 139 of the Bolivarian Constitution, every single member of the National Assembly that participated in the illegal approval of the constitutional reform is personally liable under the law for abuse of power, deviation of power and violation of the constitution. In this case, not even article 199 will shield them from that responsibility.

By any account what has happened with this constitutional reform is absolutely amazing. So much so, that if I was the government I would be desperately supporting the NO vote to get me out of this gigantic constitutional and legal nightmare.

One thing is sure though, if the referendum takes place and the reform is approved, the government of Venezuela will not be able to call itself democratic anymore and will certainly loose whatever credibility it has left within the international community.

So, we are left only with the personal implications of the decision to vote or not to vote in the referendum.

As I mentioned before, the votes on referendums are votes of conscience and belief; they are not partisan. In this case though, the constitutional reform is set out to endanger individual freedoms and democracy in Venezuela and therefore voting in the referendum has also become a matter of principle.

In matters of principle the righteous have no other alternative but to take a stance. Not because they can change a given abusive condition or because they may be able to score a victory but because that is the essence of righteousness.

The righteous can not walk away or avoid raising their voice if a child is abused; if a person is tortured; if someone is denied of his rights because of race and/or gender; if a woman is abused; if someone is denied the right to worship his God and certainly, if someone’s right to freedom is taken away by force.

In all and every single case when matters of principle are at stake the righteous have the duty to take a stance because not doing so validates the abuse and/or the perception that abusing others is warranted or not worth denouncing depending on the circumstances.

The burden of the righteous is very heavy but their power is also immense. That power has been evident through out history when in some cases the righteous stance of one single individual has triggered events that have changed the course of history itself. That same inspiring power is what we identify in the righteous stance of the students in Venezuela.

In this ageless and on going confrontation between freedom and oppression tyrants and dictators have the upper hand because they do not have to follow rules. The righteous though have the inspiring power of their principles and that is what despots fear the most.

Those of us who, as me, happen to be religious have twice that burden since we are compelled as well to take a stance when matters of faith are at stake.

I sincerely believe that, on December 2, all Venezuelans who believe in freedom and democracy have no choice but to take a stance and vote regardless of what the outcome of the election is and even though there are strong indications that the election will be fraudulent. As I said before, in matters of principle you can not stand on the sidelines and avoid taking a stance if at all, to let the tyrant know that the will and determination of those who believe in freedom is not and will never be broken.

I wish all Venezuelans the best in these times of trial and hope that better times lie ahead for themselves, their families and their country.

I also want to thank my fellow blogger Feathers for being so stubborn, passionate and uncompromising when it comes to defending her points of view and beliefs. By doing so she encouraged me to write this post and made me realize that I also needed to be reminded of the above concepts.

I leave you with a quote that is credited to Edmund Burke; a quote I think is indeed self explanatory:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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Nov 22, 2007

Article 98: (Kensey Amaya)

Patents and the decline of science and technology in Venezuela

In May I posted information published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that discussed science and engineering in Latin America. In it they reported that Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico have been trending upwards in technology development to become "high-tech exporters". Not surprisingly Venezuela ranked the lowest of the countries scored, mainly because: "[it] suffered because it was considered the riskiest or least attractive site for foreign investment". Instead of stimulating foreign and domestic investment and encourage technology development, the Chavez government has made decisions that adversely affect Venezuelans competitiveness and economy while currently they are taking steps to further discourage innovation. Specifically within the constitutional reform, to be voted on December 2nd, a modification to article 98 is planned. The original article states:

Cultural creation is free. This freedom includes the right to invest in, produce and disseminate the creative, scientific, technical and humanistic work, as well as legal protection of the authors rights in his works. The State recognizes and protects intellectual property rights in scientific, literary and artistic works, inventions, innovations, trade names, patents, trademarks and slogans, in accordance with the conditions and exceptions established by law and the international treaties executed and ratified by the Republic in this field.

Modified article 98 - text changes are underlined

Cultural creation is free. This freedom includes the right to cultural diversity pertaining to invention, production and dissemination for creative works, scientific, technological, and humanistic, including the legal protection and rights to the author for their work. The state recognizes the rights of all to participate in the cultural community, enjoy the arts, and participate in scientific technological progress, and enjoy their benefits.

The most concerning aspect of this reform is that it limits protection to cultural diversity, to the exclusion of any protection that may be strictly intellectual or economic. In addition, the term "cultural diversity" is non-specific, how should one define it or interpret it? More than likely the interpretation will be left to the court system which is controlled by Chavez.

A simple interpretation of the new article suggests that most science and technology would not be protected since most do not contribute to cultural diversity. There are countless examples of how this will affect Venezuela, from books to merchants with the sole goal of bringing everything under state. State control has proven to be inefficient and a hindrance on scientific and technological progress, the participation of the private sector and intellectual property protection is essential for it to flourish.

It is clear that the Chavez government is reforming and will interpret the new article in a way that will significantly decrease intellectual property rights and severely limit patent protection. In the words of National Assembly member Carlos Escarra these are economic (i.e. capitalist) rights not cultural rights. Cultural rights constitute art, poetry, and literature whereas "inventions" have economic benefits. Apparently, Escarra fails to realize that art, music, and literature do have economic benefits to the inventor, through the sale of their work.

It is unfortunate that the new reform is designed to decrease patent protection since it is well established that patent protection, along with property rights and decreasing state bureaucracy play key roles in spurring innovation and economic development, ultimately leading to decreased poverty. This is not a new concept, but Chavez seems intent on creating a society based on a barter system and where some of the most important technological advances, such asOrimulsion is being phased out while giving the Chinese the technological knowhow for production while collecting little to no royalties.

The proposed reform to article 98 is simply putting on paper what the Chavez has been doing for years, either directly or indirectly though his actions. To see how Venezuela has declined in technological innovation we can look at the number of U.S. patents awarded to individuals in Venezuela (see graph below).

In the graph we see that Venezuela averaged about 32 patents a year from 1993 to 2002. From 2002 to 2006 the number patents dropped sharply to 15 after hitting a 13 year low of 10 in 2005. The most probably explanation for this sharp drop in patents is Chavez's decision to purge PDVSA of political opponents, particularly those such as the PhD investigators at PDVSA research institute (INTEVEP), where 66% (108 out of 164) were fired. The loss of highly skilled/educated individuals comes at a huge loss to the State, making it less competitive, reducing innovation and investment, resulting in a less diverse economy and loss of potential revenue. The loss of these investigators is particularly damaging to PDVSA since it accounts for the bulk of the economy and requires technological innovation to stay competitive among the other oil companies. Sadly this loss is long term since the time and investment required to create a highly skilled worker with a PhD is high, approximately 5 years of education and $300,000 not counting the experience needed post PhD. Making the Venezuelan situation worse is that most of these skilled workers have left, and/or have been prevented from working in Venezuela, thus they have emigrated and sought jobs with other petroleum companies taking their knowledge and skills with them. So who loses? Venezuela.

Over the years we have seen how Chavez has made decisions that adversely affect innovation in Venezuela, now the Chavez government is poised to modify article 98 which will further discourage investment and innovation that will not only affect the oil industry but the wider economy. The Venezuelan chamber of franchises has already stated that modification to article 98 will negatively affect that business sector, which has seen significant growth recently and now accounts for 2.2% of the GDP.

The modification of article 98 is an obvious decision by the Chavez government that will only lead to decreased technological innovation in Venezuela. However, this is only one decision, although a significant one, among many that Chavez has made during the past 10 years that will adversely affect Venezuela for many years.

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Kensey writes his own blog, Venezuela US topics, and he can be reached there also for further questions.

Read More / Leer Mas......

Nov 9, 2007

The transition to the Socialist Constitution: Katy

Introduction: This post does not review a specific article but does examine the "Transitional Statutory Provisions", and as such is equally as important than any article since it will define how and when the new constitution will be applied.

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By Katy (who can be contacted at Caracas Chronicles). Originally published here.

If Venezuelan voters approve the proposed Constitution, the Reform project has included a number of “Transitional Statutory Provisions” to be implemented right after the vote. Reading them gives us a hint of what the Constitutional reality will be on December 3rd if the “Sí” option wins.

1. Legislative priorities – “We prioritise all and everything”

Assuming the Constitution is approved, the National Assembly will proceed to modify the laws necessary to establish a socialist economy. Its first priority will be to pass Organic laws in matters such as the promotion of the socialist economy (or is that the destruction of the private economy?), the regulation (or is it pillage?) of the Central Bank, the creation of the National Fund of Popular Power, the downgrading of municipal power, regulation of oil and gas, regulation of social security, regulation of pensions for informal workers, anti-monopoly legislation and annuity payments for workers on payroll.

What this hints at is that the National Assembly will go to work quickly to begin implementing the laws that back economic reforms on practically everything. Communal councils will begin receiving loads of cash, and state and local government will see their resources dwindle. Chávez will be in complete control of the Central Bank and its reserves. Informal workers will supposedly begin getting a pension fund and the oil and gas laws will be changed. The curious thing is that many of these laws are already part of Chavez’s enabling package, which makes the emphasis on how they will get to work quickly rather odd.

The last bit on the list of laws to be changed is the Organic Education Law. The immediate discussion and passage of this new law will be a chance for the government to steamroll a demoralized opposition and impose its control over private education once and for all.

Other laws that will be prioritised include Organic laws for the territorial (dis?)organization of the country, for the Foreign Service (to make them what, more chavista? Is that even possible?), a reform of the penal code to include sanctions against torture (don’t we have that already?) and an organic law for the justice system (see comment on Foreign Service law).

What this amounts to is that the National Assembly will “prioritise” absolutely everything in its grasp. In other words, they will leave no stone unturned, and there’s no way of telling which stones they will overturn first.

2. Perks – “Fellas, come back to Congress whenever you want”

One of the Transitional articles includes a provision that any National Assembly representative elected December of 2005 can reclaim their seat after having served in any position in the Executive Power. In other words, if Chávez fires you, you still have a job to go back to, unlike now, where you have to settle for any old Embassy he might throw your way.

3. Indigenous representatives and annuity charges – “Oh, let’s do our job”

Eight years after approving the current Constitution, there are still many provisions in it that have not been regulated. The Assembly, in a curious act of devilishness, has included a number of provisions that regulate articles in the established Constitution but are not part of the group of articles being considered for reform.

An example of this is Article 92, which says all workers have a right to their annuity payments, or “prestaciones sociales.” The Assembly has decided to include in their Transitional Provisions an article explaining exactly how workers will get their annuities. It says workers will earn annuities according to their last salary, and that this right will last for ten years (the writing is very vague on this one, pardon but I don’t yet have my Ph.D. in Chavistology to make ends or tails of it). The purpose of this seems to be to ensure workers’ annuities do not suffer because of the change in the workweek.

Another example is Article 125 of the current Constitution, which is not up for discussion and simply says that indigenous people will have their own representatives. Transitional Provisions explain exactly how indigenous representatives will be elected, bypassing the need for a special law in that regard. They also say that the demarcation of indigenous lands, something that according to the existing Constitution should have been done a long time ago, will have to be done… in the next two years!

The indigenous lobby must be thrilled with all this attention they’re getting. Too bad it amounts to not much.

4. Deferring to other people – “The following things will be handled by the people who are supposed to handle them according to existing legislation.”

Somehow the National Assembly saw the need to specify that things that specific people are in charge of handling specific things under existing laws, and that these things will continue to be handled by those people under existing laws, unless they (the Assembly) change their minds. If this sounds to you, as it does to me, as complete mumbo-jumbo and a total waste of paper, then maybe we didn’t go to enough law classes to understand the “intricacies” of the judicial “sciences.”

For example, the Provisions delegate to the CNE any authority to decide the details of how elections are to be carried out while new electoral laws are passed. In other words, it includes a paragraph saying that the CNE is in charge of elections until we change the laws, which is totally and completely obvious to me.

Furthermore, it specifies that, until new legislation is brought forth regarding empty lots of land, the administration of said lands will continue in the hands of Chávez under the guise of whatever the hell he decides is his will on a particular day, ermm, sorry, “existing legislation.”

The provisions also specify that the matters of “professional titles,” and “professional associations” will continue to be guided by existing legislation. Again, oddly enough, this is referring to an Article (105) that surprisingly! exists in our actual Constitution, which says something completely banal about how the law will regulate the requisites people need to earn a professional degree and associate with colleagues and, doubly surprising! is not even one of the articles being considered for the reform.

Finally, the Comptroller’s office and the regulations that govern its functioning are supposed to continue working under existing legislation. In other words, the Comptroller and his cronies can continue keeping their heads in the sand just fine.

5. The economy again – “Oh, in case it wasn’t clear by now, Chávez will run everything for as long as he wants”

There are separate provisions specifying that Chávez will have immediate power to modify key things about our economy. It would seem like the fact that Chávez has an Enabling Law with an actual expiration date is not enough, since the Transitional Provisions effectively hand over power to Chavez “until laws are passed” which could perfectly be never.

Insofar as laws are not approved, Chávez will be able to begin the transition to a socialist economy by decree. Chavez will also be able to fund Communal Councils immediately, until an Organic Law for the Popular Power is approved.

6. Decentralization – “Bye-bye suckas!!”

As was expected, a number of the transitory provisions deal with the immediate dismantling of decentralization.

The changes to the Constitutional Entitlements (Situado Constitucional), by which state and local governments are entitled to a certain percentage of the national budget, will come into effect with the Budget Law of 2009. In other words, decentralization has exactly one year before it ceases to exist.

Furthermore, it hands over to Chavez the power to create the Federal District of Caracas, remove current Major Mayor (no pun intended) Barreto and pass all administrative and bureaucratic tasks to the new Federal District authorities. Oh, I forgot, “as long as a new law isn’t passed”, which could be never. In other words, Chávez becomes the king and sole decider of the Federal District as well.

Finally, it says the State has one year to transfer all the power stipulated in the reform from the different local governments to Chavez.

The idea is clear: we have exactly one year before the decentralization experiment is part of history.

7. Presidential elections in 2012 – “Wait – Chavez resigns at the beginning of his fourth period?”

Curiously enough, the Provisions specify that the new, seven-year presidential term will only come into effect once the current one is done. In other words, there will be Presidential elections in 2012 and not 2013.

This is a surprise to me. If my calculator is correct, that means that elections following that will take place in 2019, for a term that would begin in early 2020. That means that if Chavez plans on staying until 2021, he’s planning to resign after the start of that term?

Wait, maybe they’re confused just like they were with the changes in the clock. Maybe Chavez wants to stay until 2030. But wait – elections would take place in 2026 and then in 2033. How would he only stay until 2030? Is he planning to die that year? Is he going to resign? Is he planning on changing the Constitution again in the future? Should we expect a change in 2010 saying the Presidential term is now TEN years instead of seven?

However, the article itself is written in quasi-grammatical fashion, as is usual with these shamefully uneducated lawmakers. It says, “Fourteenth: The presidential term established in article 230 of this Constitution will be applied once the current presidential term has expired.” Putting aside the issue that Presidential terms are not “applied”, it seems like there’s a wee-bit of a gray area there, but I find it unlikely that they will come up with nonsensical interpretations of this article. Then again, stranger things have happened.

8. State of exception – “Oh, I almost forgot, your rights will be taken from you whenever we say for as long as we want, starting now”

It’s been said before, but it begs repeating. The law passed in 2001 that regulated when, how and for how long the State can decree a “State of Exception” - see Musharraf (2007) – will cease to exist as soon as this Constitution is approved. In other words, if in the days after the Constitution is approved the government decides to enact an unlimited State of Exception, we will be in true legal limbo since there will be no law to regulate it – meaning, no law that says what the State can or cannot do during those “exceptional” times.

In this scenario, the National Assembly makes clear that it would not be violating any laws by enacting a State of Exception since, well, States of Exception will be completely unregulated. When the government begins to censor newspapers at will, it will have the law on its side.

Furthermore, the State of Exception will be for as long as the government wants it to be. Say, did you know that people in Egypt have been living under a State of Exception since 1967? Did you know that Hitler enacted a State of Exception following the Reichstag fire in 1933, and the German Constitution was effectively suspended until the war was over? Did you know that Syria has been in a State of Exception since 1963? Just thought I’d throw that out there. It’s amazing the kind of stuff you can learn from Wikipedia.

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Nov 2, 2007

Articles 328 and 329: Alek Boyd

Article 328 (1999): The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially professional institution, with no political orientation, organized by the State to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation and ensure the integrity of its geographical space, through military defense, cooperation for the purpose of maintaining internal order and active participation in national development, in accordance with this Constitution and the law. In performing their functions, they are at the exclusive service of the Nation, and in no case at the service of any person or political partisanship. The pillars on which they are founded are discipline, obedience and subordination. The National Armed Forces consist of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the National Guard, which function in an integrated manner within the scope of their competence to fulfill their mission, with their own overall Social Security system, as established under the pertinent organic law.

Proposed Amendment:
Article 328: The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist institution organized by the State to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation; to preserve it from any internal or external attacks and ensure the integrity of its geographic area through the study, planning and execution of the Bolivarian military doctrine, the implementation of the principles of integral military defense and the war of popular resistance, the permanent participation in tasks akin to maintaining security of the citizenry, and the upkeep of the internal order as well as the active engagement in economic, social, scientific and technological development plans in accordance to this constitution and the law.

In the performance of its functions it will always be at the service of the Venezuelan people defending its sacred interests and under no circumstances will serve any oligarchies or imperial foreign powers.

Its fundamental pillars are this constitution and the law, as well as discipline, obedience and subordination.

Its historical pillars are in Bolivar's mandate: to free the nation, to take the sword to defend social guarantees and to deserve people's blessings.

The first and most important aspect that jumps from the proposed amendment is that the National Armed Forces will no longer be an apolitical body. Professionalism is replaced by “patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist” one supposes according to Hugo Chavez's understanding of these terms. A fact that has not gone unnoticed in recent military parades in Venezuela is the chant “fatherland, socialism or death” (Patria, socialismo o muerte). In fact president Chavez maintains that such premise has to become the backbone of Venezuela's soldiers.

This amendment plainly seeks to remove any traces of separation between Executive and military power, fusing the two and subordinating the latter, according to the new constitution's fundamental pillars, to the president, ergo Hugo Chavez effectively becomes the people. Such absolutist measure has no parallel in Venezuela's contemporary history though it is to be expected from a militaristic caudillo hell bent in ruling indefinitely.

The term “popular” seems misplaced within the context. However the introduction of an “anti-imperialist” reference within the constitutional framework serves the purpose of legalizing an otherwise rhetorical term, deprived of its meaning, commonly used by the president and his supporters, considering the leverage that the Cuban dictator has not only on Chavez but in matters of State in Venezuela.

The Boliviarian military doctrine remains as unknown as an intelligible definition of 'XXI century socialism.' However the term “war of popular resistance” has got an awfully similar ring to Cuba's “guerra de todo el pueblo.”

Article 329 (1999): The Army, Navy and Air Force have as their essential responsibility the planning, execution and control of military operations as required to ensure the defense of the Nation. The National Guard shall cooperate in the carrying out of these operations, and shall have as its basic responsibility that of conducting operations as required to maintain internal order within the country. The National Armed Forces shall carry out activities of administrative policing and criminal investigation activities as provided for by law.

Proposed Amendment
Article 329: The Bolivarian Armed Forces are formed by the different land, sea and air bodies, administratively organized in the following components: the Bolivarian Army, the Bolivarian Navy, the Bolivarian Air Force, The Bolivarian Territorial Guard and the Bolivarian Popular Militia, said components structured in combined units of assistance, training and joint operations, both at the tactical and strategic level in order to fulfil its mission.
The Bolivarian Armed Forces will be able to perform administrative police and penal investigation activities as mandated by law.

Provisional ordinance (from the National Assembly dispositions)

The National Guard will become an essentially military body that might be destined by its commander in chief to form land, sea and air units as part of other military components. With part of its human, technical and material resources police corps could also be formed. Its military definition will change to that of Territorial Guard.

Another provisional ordinance

The units and components of the military reserve will become units of the Bolivarian Popular Militia.

Commentary: “defense of the nation” is not reiterated in the proposed amendment to article 329. Rather it aims at restructuring the armed forces and introduces the militia, that president Chavez has been forming and arming, as just another branch of it. To date no legislation to regulate the militia has been drafted and no evidence has been presented as to the final destination of the many thousands of Kalashnikov riffles imported from Russia, thought to be in the hands of the militia. The common military hierarchical meritocratic structure will coexist alongside a poorly trained civilian component. Revolutionary fervor and absolute allegiance to Hugo Chavez appears to make up for military knowledge. The interesting aspect of it is that Bolivarian militias will perhaps keep orthodox military personnel / components in check in order to inform the maximum leader. Having no formal, professional or institutional structure militias could have direct access to the office of the presidency. Needless to say that there is no contemporary constitutional precedence of giving praetorian guards such status within Venezuela's armed forces. Again its resemblance with Cuba's structure is remarkable

It is to be noted that the Bolivarian militias, as part of the armed forces “will be able to perform administrative police and penal investigation activities as mandated by law.” It remains to be seen what laws will be drafted and passed to regulate such activities, in particular those of the militias and what balancing mechanisms will be put into place to make it accountable before the law. Taking into consideration current circumstances it is highly unlikely that victims of 'revolutionary laws and justice' will get any redress from Venezuela's totally subordinated to the Executive judiciary. The implications that it has for the common folk are manifold, however the most worrying element is that the militias could become a sort of constitutionally backed vigilante groups with plenty of discretionary and fire power and under the direct orders of the president, that could be unleashed on those often referred to as the enemies of the process; read the opposition, human rights NGOs, student movements, the Church, the media, etc.

This measure regarding the militias is already affecting the region, as reports from Venezuelan military presence arrive from odd places such as Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Furthermore the prospect of a confederation between Venezuela and Cuba is constantly announced by president Chavez and one is already seeing Cuban ‘doctors’ working alongside Venezuelan military / militia, as denounced in Bolivia . To date the representatives of the Venezuelan people –read Congressmen and Congresswomen- have not legislated and approved laws with regards to sending troops to foreign countries, for this is a measure that depends solely on the discretion of he in charge of conducting foreign affairs: i.e. the president. Thus the ‘enemies of the revolution’ need be countered regardless of whether they are in Caracas, Bogotá, Santa Cruz, Managua, Buenos Aires or Lima. As Hugo Chavez promised recently from Havana, he is prepared to turn Bolivia into a Vietnam should Morales opponents oust him.

Alek Boyd can be joined directly at his own site, Vcrisis.

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Oct 31, 2007

Article 70: Virginia

Article 70 - 1999 Constitution

Means of people’s participation and involvement in the exercise of their sovereignty, in political affairs, among others, are: the election of public officials, the referendum, the consultation of public opinion, mandate revocation, the legislative, constitutional and constituent initiatives, the open town council, and the citizens’ assembly, whose decisions shall be binding. Means of participation in social and economic affairs are: the citizens’ service bureaus, self-management, co-management, all forms of cooperatives, including those of financial nature, credit unions, community enterprises, and other forms of association guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity. The law shall establish conditions for the effective functioning of the means of participation contemplated under the present article.
(underlined sections are removed from the reformed article)

Article 70 Reformed

Means of people’s participation and involvement in the direct exercise of Their sovereignty, and FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM are: the election of public officials, the referendum, the consultation of public opinion, mandate revocation, the legislative, constitutional and constituent initiatives, the open town council, and the citizens’ assembly, THE DECISIONS OF THE LATTER BEING BINDING, THE COUNCILS OF POPULAR POWER (COMMUNAL COUNCILS, WORKERS COUNCILS, STUDENTS COUNCILS, FARMERS COUNCILS, AMONG OTHERS), THE WORKERS DEMOCRATIC MANAGEMENT OF ANY DIRECT OR INDIRECT SOCIAL PROPERTY ENTERPRISE, THE COMMUNAL self-management, FINANCIAL AND MICRO-FINANCIAL COMMUNAL ORGANIZATIONS, COMMUNAL PROPERTY COOPERATIVES, COMMUNAL credit unions, NETWORKS OF FREE ASSOCIATED PRODUCERS, VOLUNTARY WORK, community enterprises and other forms of association constituted to develop values of mutual cooperation and SOCIALIST solidarity
The law shall establish conditions for the effective functioning of the means of participation contemplated under the present article.
(sections in capital letters are new in the reformed article)

The section in parenthesis was modified by the National Assembly in the following way:


And the last paragraph will say: A NATIONAL LAW, instead of ‘The law

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

In order of appearance, this is the second article in the proposed reform presenting socialism as an exclusive system framing the activity of the government and of the citizens. “Means of people’s participation and involvement in the direct exercise of their sovereignty, and FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM”.

Taking into account that article 2 - part of the Fundamental Principles which cannot be altered by a constitutional reform- says that political pluralism is held as a superior value of the legal order and actions of the State, the first question the new article 70 poses is: Which article describes the means of participation of the people for purposes different from the construction of socialism?

There is no such article.

Does that mean that participation for other purposes will be considered unconstitutional? Let’s see:

“The government is and shall always be democratic, participatory and pluralist”, says Article 6 and “the organs of the State emanate from and are subject to the sovereignty of the people”, says article 5. The protection of the democratic exercise of the will of the people is guaranteed in article 3. All three also being part of the unalterable Fundamental Principles.
Furthermore, article 21 says that “all persons are equal before the law, and, consequently any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or encroaching upon the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of every individual shall not be permitted”.

Moreover, article 22 says that “The enunciation of rights and guarantees contained in this Constitution is not to be understood as negating others inherent to individuals, not expressly mentioned in such enunciation. The absence of a law regulating these rights shall not adversely affect the exercise thereof.”

The content of articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 21 and 22 clearly lead to the conclusion that the words ‘FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM” are superfluous and useless. And that is not even considering that the alluded socialism, (if it is the same as the so called ‘21st century socialism’) is nothing anybody can agree or disagree with, since it has only been defined in terms of what it will not be. It is something yet to be invented.

But this conclusion is only valid if the interpretation of the constitution is performed by an autonomous and impartial Judicial Power, one where its members are endowed with the honesty, capability, probity and excellence mandated by the constitution. With a Judicial Power under the control of the Executive and where the president of its Supreme Tribunal (twice fired from the Judicial system for illicit actions, in 1989 and 2003) is a member of the presidential committee for the constitutional reform (which makes her a judge and a party in the issue), the intention of the reform of article 70 of reducing the political rights of citizens to a single alternative becomes evident.

Another modification in article 70 is the elimination of co-management as a way of participation in social and economic affairs. Now there is no distinction between political, social or economic means of participation and only self-management is mentioned as a form of workers involvement in enterprise management. Is this an improvement? It depends on what kind of enterprises will the workers be allowed to manage themselves. Would Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) for example be managed from now on by the company workers? Well, no. The article makes it clear that only in the restricted realm or environment of what is ‘communal’ the workers may have any involvement. The term ‘communal’ would be related to either Communes (political entities with forms of self government equivalent to parishes) or Communities, (a new micro political division that is being introduced by article 16 which can only be explained as an obsession to micro manage the lives of the people.- Mousqueton-Article 16). The alleged increase in participation and power transfer to the people, used to advertise the constitutional reform would be manifested only in matters of little transcendence, matters with virtually no significance in the national context.

Then what is the meaning of ‘THE WORKERS DEMOCRATIC MANAGEMENT OF ANY DIRECT OR INDIRECT SOCIAL PROPERTY ENTERPRISE’? Perhaps PDVSA falls into the category of Social property? Well, no. Direct Social Property will be “what the State assigns to Communes or Communities or Cities”. Indirect Social Property is something “exercised by the State in the name of a Community”, according to the reformed article 115. Again any enterprise management where the workers will be in charge will not be anything over which the State doesn’t have full control. Nowhere in this reformed article it is said that the workers will have something to do with Public Property, the one that ‘belongs’ to State Entities. One can foresee that it is in the latter category where PDVSA belongs.

Notably missing among the means of participation listed in the new article 70 is the exercise of popular control over the State entities through ‘contraloria social’.

The effort of the National Assembly to make this article attractive by adding Fishermen, The Young, Women, Disabled people etc, to the list of the Councils of Popular Power (where they were already implicitly included with the words ‘among others’), denotes the disregard and disrespect of the servile group of legislators (that represents less than 20% of the electorate) for the citizens, condescendingly underestimating intelligence. Why? Because the Popular Power, as described in the reformed article 136, is not exercised by electing any communal, woman, elderly or student leader in any election. It is exercised by “being part of communes, communities and cities self-government.”

The National Assembly was careful to emphasize that no form of self-government at any of the micro-levels where participation is graciously allowed could ever create special legislation.
They had to include the word ‘National’ to qualify the type of law that will establish the conditions for the effective functioning of the means of participation.

Another reduction of the people’s rights is the transformation of the formerly binding decisions of the Open Town Councils (Town Meetings), into non-binding in the reformed article 70.

There is no way to know how “SOCIALIST solidarity” deviates from the universally understood concept of solidarity. But if the deviation follows the same pattern as “revolutionary justice” or “revolutionary democracy” from their respective original concepts, we can expect a result with no resemblance whatsoever to what the term pretends to invoke.

Finally, voluntary work now is characterized as a means of participation. Since it is incomprehensible to consider it as a political, social or economical right, it is feasible that some National law will make it a duty or a condition to exercise some fundamental right.

Article 70 is under TITLE III of the constitution, which refers to Duties, Human Rights and Guarantees. The proposed modifications imply a substantial reduction of the people’s rights,
which is contrary to the principle of progressiveness, contemplated in the 1999 constitution.

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Oct 29, 2007

A first evaluation of the impact of the 69 amendments to the 1999 constitution (Guillermo P. translation and introduction)

Although Hugo Chavez is fond of portraying himself as a revolutionary in the tradition of Lenin, Mao, Fidel and Che, he has followed a distinctly unique approach on his path for absolute power over Venezuela. The key to that approach has been a limitless patience as well as an ability to charm a wide range of Venezuelans and international citizens. He has managed to convince many that his is a peaceful and democratic revolution, whose main concern is the well-being of the poor in Venezuela and the world.

But as the December deadline approaches for the modification of the Venezuelan constitution, Chavez's mundane desires become clearer: to have absolute power for as long as possible. As the constitutional lawyers Alirio Abreu Burelli and Carlos Ayala Corao point out in this article for El Nacional on Sunday, the modifications to the constitution represent an assault on democratic principles. Up until now, Chavez has been able to proceed by masking his dictatorial intentions. However, these constitutional changes being voted on by a puppet National Assembly are a de facto constitutional coup d’état that will centralize power in Chavez's hands and allow him to stay in power indefinitely. Abreu Burelli and Ayala Corao discuss some of the consequences of this impending assault in seven different sections of the constitution.

(Editor's note: To help illustrate the absolute power for Chavez trend within the regime El Nacional publishes this revealing picture of Chavez in the middle of his court. The original Spanish text of El Nacional article, by subscription, has been posted here. )

More losses than gains
El Nacional, 28 October 2007

Alirio Abreu Burelli, ex-magistrate for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and Carlos Ayala Corao, ex-president of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights, warn about the risks of modifying the Magna Carta so quickly and how it is an attempt to tailor it to the President’s political project.

It Will Be Easier to Remove Magistrates

What is lost?
The Supreme Court judges will be able to be freely removed by a simple majority of the National Assembly. Such a change reduces the independence and autonomy of the highest authorities of the Judicial Power, to the degree that they could give in to pressures in order to keep their positions.

The postulation committees will be made up of entities of the State and not by organizations from society, which diminishes the guarantees of impartiality for the rectors of Judicial Power and Citizen Power. The National Assembly will not have to approve the Plan for National Development.

The autonomy of the Central Bank of Venezuela, the autonomy of monetary policy and the administration of cash; all these will be in the hands of the President of the Republic.

The national government council and the State council were presided by the vice president (now it will be by the President).

What is gained?
More awareness within Venezuelan society about the importance of the independence and autonomy of public powers for a democracy.

More awareness among the international community about the undemocratic nature of the constitutional reform.

The Entire Country Will Be Controlled From Miraflores Palace

What is lost?
The “national system of cities” will imply centralization in the Executive Power of the local duties of cities. The nationalization and centralization of the regulations for Caracas and the Federal District.

The centralization of communal councils within the national power; their registry, regulation and financing.

The centralization of the national government council: its members will include only those governors and mayors “convened” by the President.

The President will be able to create military regions and name their authorities.

He will be able to create central entities that are above the states and municipalities, such as federal provinces, federal territories, functional districts; and to name their authorities (they will not be elected).

The elimination of the Metropolitan District of Caracas and its substitution by a Federal District. The democratic origin of its authorities is not clearly visible.

What is gained?
In theory, more constitutional stipends, but not in practice, because now the states and municipalities will have to share not only with the Federal District, but also with the communal councils and the rest of the organs of popular power (and it is not clear if also with the federal provinces, federal territories and functional districts).

The Government Will Act Without Control During Emergencies

What is lost?
The right to information and due process could be affected, rights that are fundamental for avoiding abuses of authority. It is not enough to guarantee a few rights of due process, since it is an integral right that cannot be divided.

When article 337 of the current Constitution is modified, in order to exclude the right to information as one of the rights that cannot be suspended during states of emergency, the principle of progressiveness is violated, as expressly consecrated in article 19 of the Magna Carta.

The parliamentary control for revoking the decree of a state of emergency.

From the limited notion of “restriction” we now return to the dangerous notion of “suspension.”

The temporal limits of states of emergency as a guarantee.

The judicial control that figures in the current Constitution as an unavoidable requisite is not made clear.

Specific references to the international limits of states of emergencies (Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights).

What is gained?
More awareness about the risks of restrictions on freedom of expression during states of emergency.

Goods Deemed Liable to Expropriation Can Be Occupied Immediately

What is lost?
The explicit constitutional acknowledgment of property as a right.

The consecration of the social function of property.

The universality of the goods that can be the object of property. The distinction between “goods for use and consumption” and “goods for production acquired legitimately” is an invitation to arbitrariness so that the law can determine what goods are susceptible to property. Moreover, what does goods “acquired legitimately” mean, and who will determine what they are?

The goods that are the object of appropriation can be occupied administratively without any previous judicial authorization, which leaves them practically powerless at the hands of the State.

The guarantee against the confiscation of land.

Environmental offenses will be able to be punished with the confiscation of land; moreover, the types of offenses are not determined.

The dismantling of intellectual property, its protection is not fully guaranteed.

All of this generates judicial insecurity for all Venezuelans.

What is gained?
More awareness about the risks of arbitrary actions against property in the new Constitution.

Security for Independent Workers Was A Debt

What is lost?
Work as a freedom for human beings.

The right of citizens to dedicate themselves to a legal economic activity of their choice. Now, Venezuelans will work under whatever conditions the Government imposes, within the range of State policies.

The risks for the autonomy of unions when facing the new workers councils.

In practice, the right of workers to associate with one another for the sake of making demands could be evaded by a State-promoted leadership, despite the fact that in many cases the State is the patron.

What is gained?
The reduction of the work cycle to 6 daily hours or 36 weekly hours.

A social security system that supports independent workers, with the provision of creating a fund nourished with contributions from the State and the worker.

Because it is a matter of social justice, it is logical to see an almost general support for the improvement of the working conditions and guarantees for Venezuelan workers.

Both matters could have been resolved legally several years ago, according to the specific mandates of the current Constitution.

Now It Will Be Harder To Revoke Bad Elected Officials

What is lost?
Political pluralism, since the mechanisms of participation (elections, referendums, etc.) will be tied to a single ideology: socialism.

The conditions that facilitate popular initiatives (constitutional and constituent reform) and the various referendums.

Governance by elected authorities. The President of the Republic will be able to name central authorities to govern without being elected (federal territories, federal provinces, functional municipalities, military and special regions, and others).

A popular power that does not surge from the votes of the people. The authorities in charge of popular power will not be elected by their communities through free and secret elections.

The gathering of society and the masses under the control of the State: Popular Power ends up being a “power” of the State, and it no longer belongs to citizens who participate from society.

What is gained?
More awareness among people about the loss of participatory and democratic spaces in the new Constitution that is about to be approved.

An excessive stability for elected officials.

The State Will Fight Against the “Internal Enemy”

What is lost?
The character of an institution that is not at the service of any single person.

Its institutional mission within a Constitutional State of Law, beyond any political or party conceptions (Bolivarian Armed Forces).

The conception of the Armed Forces as being within “national security” so as to maintain order and defend itself from “internal” enemies.

The militarization of a large sector of the population, by means of their incorporation to a new component of the Armed Forces: the national militia.

The promotion of a popular war of resistance, instead of a culture of peace.

The disregard for recommendations by international organizations about the need for security forces to be of a civilian nature.

Increased direct interference from the President in promotions at all levels.

Increased direct interference from the head of State in the bodies, components and units of the National Armed Forces.

What is gained?
More awareness about the risks of dismantling the institutional nature of the National Armed Forces with the new Constitution.

(Editor's note: this is the first comprehensive summary of the new changes, which include the articles added quickly by the National Assembly to the Original proposal of Chavez of "only" 33 articles. That is, the changes now are a whopping 69 amendments to the 1999 constitution. We must admire the efforts of Abreu and Ayala to have tried to be as objective as possible in their discussion of such a flagrant legal coup).

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