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Towards the 21st century Socialism

The Debate on the Constitutional Reform in Venezuela

The Venezuelan 1999 Constitution and the new stage, the new strategic map of the Bolivarian revolution


 "President Chávez has been vested with the right to advance his political project once his mandate is ratified, provided that he abides by the democratic principles binding all Americans and which are stated in the Democratic Charter."
(César Gaviria, Report on the Facilitation Process in Venezuela, 2004)

"We cast no doubt about were we were going. Now, then, the way to get there, either by peaceful means or through weapons, has been a matter of discussion for several years." "We have outlined three strategic blueprints (since 1994, when I was in Yare jail). They are an evolution of the same blueprint.The blueprint has been changing both domestically and worldwide, and that is very significant."

"The long-term goal in the economic field, without a doubt, is to transcend the capitalist model."

"We do not intend to annihilate private property, as in the communist position, no. That would be insane at the present time. I am not saying that people mulling over this possibility are insane, but it is just not the timing."

(Hugo Chávez Frías, The New Strategic Map, 2004)


The reform of the Venezuelan 1999 Constitution -trumpeted by the Government- will be the centerpiece of the Venezuelan political agenda early in 2007. Antipodal and with a different rationale, opposition leader Manuel Rosales concurs in this goal with Hugo Chávez -who was re-elected as Venezuelan President last December 3rd.

For the democratic opposition in Venezuela, a constitutional reform is a desideratum: a prerequisite for its existence, as the dissent knows it will be hard to achieve consolidation and move towards the control of the political power if under a constitutional framework like that currently in force in Venezuela.

From birth, the current Constitution paved the way for concentration of public branches and, particularly, put in the hands of the current Venezuelan President an apparent control over the Electoral Power -not to mention that it suffocated political and administrative decentralization driven under the 1961 Constitution. And if that were not enough, it placed both the State and the military above all, thus displacing the autonomy of people and their right to free development of their personality. All of this was within a regulatory and ideological framework that turns individual personalities in servants of the establishment and cultivators of one single thought: Liberator Simón Bolívar's ideology.

Regarding the constitutional reform, Chávez has claimed this process will be intended to build a new model of socialist State and society he brands 21st Century Socialism. He further suggests that a dialogue on constitutional matters with his opponents will have no room outside such context.

The public opinion wonders whether democratic standards -as provided for under the Inter-American Democratic Charter- can be negotiated and also has questions about the meaning of the 21st Century Socialism. Further, quite a few political analysts seem to be willing to engage in this debate. Perhaps they feel -as dictated by experiences known worldwide- that the socialist model has enough room for different ideologies and forms that are not opposed to democracy and rather make deepening of democracy possible. They refuse to believe that Chávez is likely to make attempts at taking the country through the ways leading to weary and failed popular democracies -formerly built by communism- and the regional last example of which is Fidel Castro's Cuba -a model that is agonizing because of its persona-centered character.

 However, following the recall vote on Chávez in 2004, then Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) César Gaviria, who has a comprehensive knowledge about the Venezuelan situation and its evolution, found it appropriate to notice and warn in his report the following: "President Chávez has been invested with the right to advance his political project once his mandate is ratified, provided that he abides by the democratic principles binding all Americans and which are stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter." These principles, established as substantial, fundamental components of democracy are: respect for human rights; access to power and governance in accordance with the rule of law; free, fair elections; political parties and plural political organizations; separate, independent public branches; government transparency; public servants' decency; accountability; freedom of expression and freedom of the press; military subordination to the civil power; observance of the rule of law.

In any case, it should be noted that, unlike the fugacity and insecurity that are characteristic in Venezuelans -because they are the children of the present or the slaves of their dreams, looking endlessly for an oracle, Chávez has persisted with his "political project." His strategy is the same as usual, and the reelection that just benefited him -as a tactical expression- enables him to deepen such project.

The 21st Century Socialism is a new idea, current or symbol. The substance of the "process" is of long ago.  "We cast no doubt about where we were going. Now, then, the way to get there, either by peaceful means or through weapons, has been a matter of discussion for several years," Chávez conceded outspokenly in La Nueva Etapa: El Mapa Estratégico de la Revolución Bolivariana (The New Stage -The Strategic Map of the Bolivarian Constitution). He introduced and outlined this blueprint in November 2004. Later, he reminded all Venezuelans that the three strategic maps drafted thus far, beginning with the map designed by him in 1994 during his imprisonment in Yare, "are an evolution of the same blueprint."

The centerpiece of the ongoing revolutionary model, according to Chávez himself, is "to transcend the capitalist model." In any case, the point of the strategy continues being "for the time being." Burleigh's bridge to democracy will not fall down by implosion. It has been dismantled since 1999, nut by nut, beam after beam. "No communist statement (…) It would be insane at the present time. I am not saying that people mulling over this possibility are insane, but it is just not the timing," said the re-elected president in The New Stage.

In view of the foregoing, a review of some organic and dogmatic rules of the 1999 Constitution is not worthless. They ought to be matched, or compared, with the conceptual or discursive components, specific objectives and tools described and included in The New Stage, in order to fully understand the strategy and the ultimate goal that, from Chávez' perspective, provide a rationale for the constitutional reform.

In terms of state and society organization, the Constitution envisages a republican model of separate public branches. However, it delimits their traditional autonomy. Most important, political parties -instrumental in the relationship between the civil society and the political society- are silenced. Further, public funding of associations "for political purposes" is banned. The New Stage heads toward a single party and overhauling of both state and society. The "new grassroots structure" will be consolidated and engage in political and production matters, as well as citizen-initiated audits of state institutions. Also, it will join a new public administration schedule where the "missionary" system imported from Havana will prevail.

The Constitution, along with its overwhelming nominalism in human rights issues, entrusted the state -not the individual- with the duty and responsibility of developing the human being. Ahead of the 21st Century Socialism and according to The New Stage, "rather than facts and the surface, the man needs to be transformed." The target is a Bolivarian educational system, which means both the reform of the educational system and "education and identification of people with the values, ethics and ideology of the Bolivarian Revolution."

Democratic pluralism gives in gradually between the Constitution and the statements of The New Stage. The interpretation by the Constitutional Court, Supreme Tribunal of Justice, as appears from Directives 1013 and 1942, and the renowned Radio and Television Social Responsibility Law act as the middleman. As disclosed by Chávez in The New Stage, "There is need to prevent them (the opposition) from reorganizing, military speaking. Should they reorganize, there is need to rail on them and harass them restlessly. I have only one guest -our allied media." Therefore, the plural character of democratic opinion will continue dampened until reaching the core of the system that makes diversity of ideas possible, i.e. the mass media. In accordance with The New Stage, the proposal and goal is "to reinforce the public media and enhance the state communications capabilities."

Electoral management has been "unpartisan" since the 1999 Constitution. In the meantime, The New Stage provides for reinforcement of the axes that influence the information technology that guides balloting. Such axes are Mission Identity and the digital register of voters, input of the political parties' data -Tascón and Maisanta rolls- and refining of the "geo-referential map." In this way, the whereabouts of every Venezuelan and his/her political trends will be made known.

The economic system, confirmed under the 1999 Constitution by free competition and respect for private property, makes room for "collective property." In accordance with The New Stage, it will go to co-management, people's economy, self-employment, and new values of "solidarity production and consumption," in the context of centralized planning and endogenous development.

Finally, foreign policy and national defense, based on the constitutional postulates of absolute sovereignty and structuring of the whole fundamental ruling order around the idea of national security and army preeminence, find in The New Stage the aims of open confrontation with the United States; export of the Bolivarian revolution; a new military mindset; development of militias; people's obedience and military discipline; as well as establishment think tanks, communication experts and intellectuals for the purposes of lobbying worldwide for the process.

To sum up, in the event of enforcing the 21st Century Socialism, the core of the constitutional reform that has been implemented steadily since 1999, by means of a constitutional "democratic" negotiation, a longstanding experience will be reedited in Venezuela. Our contemporaries do not get or understand such an experience. Those who do it, refrain themselves from defining it as constitutional dictatorship; Mussolinian or Peronist fascism; personality populism or autocracy; or just communism, covered "for the time being" with the global technology makeup of the 21st Century. Translated by Conchita Delgado and Maryflor Suárez




Article 16


For purposes of the political organization of the  Republic, the territory of  the nation is  divided into those  of the States,  the Capital  District,  federal dependencies  and  federal territories.  The territory is organized into Municipalities.


Article 136


Public Power is distributed among Municipal Power, that  of the States Power  and National Power.  National Public Power  is divided into Legislative, Executive, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral.


Each of  the branches  of Public  Power has  its own  functions, but the organs charged with exercising the same shall cooperate with one another in attaining the ends of the State.


Article 67


All  citizens have the  right of association  for political purposes,  through  democratic methods  of organization, operation  and direction. (…) Their governing organs and candidates for offices filled by
popular   vote,  shall   be  selected   by  internal   elections  with participation  of  their  members.  No financing  of  associations  for political purposes with State funds shall be permitted. (…)





While I cannot remove mayors or governors, I can do otherwise, cannot I? Please note that in this new stage, he, who is with me, is with me; he, who is not with me, is against me.


I spoke to Iván Rincón Urdaneta [then president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and with regard to agrarian judges.] We do not act for lack of will. Let us take 100 revolutionary lawyers, give them a course on all the procedures, turn them into agrarian judges in few months, and send them wherever we have an interest.


A specific objective in this strategic goal includes consolidation of the new grassroots structure [UBE: Endogenous Battle Units, Cuban missions, citizen-initiated audits of state institutions] [...] They include some components of a new social system, a new people's organization, beyond political parties.


The point here is to continue the offensive to prevent reorganization [of the opposition], militarily speaking. In the event of reorganization, there is need to rail on them and harass them restlessly.


Specific Objectives


To redefine state functions at all levels.


To outline a legal framework that enables organization of new municipal, state and national institutions.


To establish new parliament procedures that allow for policy-making at the National Assembly.


To improve efficiency of the Comptroller Office [...] and prevent it from hindering the flow of the processes.


To upgrade the system of justice.


To ensure sustainability of [Cuban] missions.


To clear the judiciary.


To consolidate the new grassroots structure.


To ensure sustainability of [Cuban] missions.


Municipal Constituency Assembly

To establish a network of people’s power centers.


To reform the judiciary.


To reform of the National Assembly rules and regulations and policy-making.


To reinforce corruption interdiction systems: Comptroller General Office, Attorney General Office.


To strengthen a single coordination and decision-making agency of political organizations which support the process.


To turn missions into institutions.


To turn citizen-initiated audits of public administration into institutions.


To implement a system of confidential claims.


To implement public management follow-up, including [...] a mechanism to control the 'way of living' of authorities and officials.


To enhance civilian-military unity [military reserves or militias] for citizens' security actions.


* Juris PHd
Associate professor at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Venezuela) and Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires), Visiting Professor at Universidad de Buenos Aires

Translated by Conchita Delgado and Maryflor Suárez

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