When Hugo Chavez ran for President in 1998, one of his main proposals was that Venezuela required a “participatory” democracy instead of a representative democracy, in which decisions would somehow percolate down so that the Executive and legislative branches would have the input of the citizens and their opinion would be heard on all matters. This concept was in fact incorporated into the 2000 Bolivarian Constitution in many places and at the Quebec Summit in April 2001, Chavez refused to sign the final declaration of the Summit, because he did not believe in representative democracy, but only in a participatory democracy and the term was not included in the declaration.
After the events of the last two weeks, it should be very clear even to those with a limited understanding of what democracy is about, that Chavez does not believe in either of them. As the Venezuelan National Assembly approved today a first draft of the Enabling Law that will give Chavez absolute power to legislate for the next eighteen months, those “representatives” of the people not only relinquished their own power to legislate in favor of the autocrat, but they also precluded the exercise of that participatory democracy that Hugo Chavez claimed to believe in and which was clearly included in the 2000 Bolivarian Constitution.
When the Assembly approves the Bill next week, Chavez would have basically been appointed as a dictator of laws, where he will be able to propose, include and approve, any idea he might have. In this manner the Deputies will apparently go on a paid vacation for the next eighteen months, while the citizens wonder whatever happened to Article 211 of the Bolivarian Constitution:
“Artículo 211. La Asamblea Nacional o las Comisiones Permanentes, durante el procedimiento de discusión y aprobación de los proyectos de leyes, consultarán a los otros órganos del Estado, a los ciudadanos y ciudadanas y a la sociedad organizada para oír su opinión sobre los mismos…”
which translates as:
“Article 211. The National Assembly or the permanent commissions, during the process of discussion and approval of the Bills, will consult other organizations of the State, the citizens and organized society t hear their opinion about them…”
There will be no such procedure with the Enabling Law which will be granted to Chavez without fail or discussion, next week, which simply proves the President’s customary grandstanding on matters of democracy and participation. In fact, only last night he was claiming his new Socialist Party will be an example of democracy with all internal leaders democratically elected at all levels, a promise that is hard to believe, given that his own MVR party has yet to elect a single leader by the party members, despite the fact that the Constitution clearly states that should be the case.
Meanwhile, some of the same Deputies that were giving up their representative powers today, justified the Enabling Law with the stupid argument that most Presidents in Venezuela have been given Enabling Powers so that they can impose their views. Somehow they forget that Chavez is the first President in what now should be called Venezuela’s recent pseudo-Democratic history that was eligible for reelection, that he has been in power for all of eight years, certainly “imposing” his views and that he already was given an Enabling Law in 2000.
But what is worse is the type of Enabling law that he will be granted. First of all, rather than being for a short and limited period of time, it will be for 18 months, a lifetime compared to the previous such Bills. Moreover, Enabling Bills granted on the past to incoming Presidents have been quite specific. Even the 2000 Bill was extreme in its details, as there was some semblance of democracy and not a docile National Assembly willing to comply with every wish and whim of the autocrat. You can find that Bill here and examine the exquisite level of detail of the mandate given Hugo Chavez at the time.
In contrast, the current Enabling Bill is simply grotesque, with no guidelines or mandate, almost all encompassing and allowing the President to completely change the social, economic and political structure and fiber of our country in any way he may desire over the next eighteen months. To wit, the Bill, as proposed, will “allow the President to legislate in ample and unlimited manner on”:
-The transformation of the institutions of the State.
-Social and economic spheres
-Citizen safety and judicial security
-Science and Technology
-The National Health System
-Security and National Defense
-Infrastructure, transportation housing and services
-Telecommunications and information technology
-The penitentiary system
-Food supply security
As you can see, President Chavez has been given powers to legislate on essentially anything he wishes for in the next eighteen months, without any specifics and without control. This is certainly not in the spirit of any known Enabling Bill ever approved in history, anywhere, except those to given to Dictators at the peaks of their rule.
The approval of this Bill is simply undemocratic. It goes against the spirit and the letter of our laws and the Constitution and it creates a very gray area of what you can legislate about and/or what Constitutional reform is. After all, if not one Deputy raised his or her hand to suggest or discuss a change in this Bill, do you really believe they will oppose anything that comes out of the autocrat? Or which or whose voice will be raised against any of the hundreds of articles that will be part of the dozens of Bills to be approved by decree by Hugo Chavez. The Supereme Court? You will not hear from them either.
As Quico points out,
the worse part is that there was no need for any of this. The National
Assembly is 100% controlled by Chavez, so he could have submitted the
same Bills, have a mock discussion of them and they would have been
rubber stamped it. But that is not Chavez’ style. He is a true autocrat
for whom democracy is simply a nuisance to be used at his convenience
if he can benefit from it.
He does not even want to have to discuss the details of each Bill. Some may remember how the Constituent Assembly rejected renaming the country “The Bolivarian Republic”, only to be told by the autocrat upon his return from one of his self-promotion trips to put it back in. Which they promptly did.
Thus, when next week the National Assembly empowers Chavez to do whatever he wants, they will be setting the country in a dangerous and uncertain path, led by an autocrat who for the last long eight years has shown is incapable of managing this country or choosing the people to help him do so. A man, who has yet to come up with a definition for his “XXIst. Century Socialism” and who sadly believes that he knows it all and can by himself design a new socioeconomic system that mostly mimics failed ones.
At the end of these eighteen months, Venezuela’s social end economic system will hardly be recognized and we all will be worse off because of this.
A sad day indeed.