Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sitting Bull's tribe declares independence

By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Last Updated: 1:45am GMT 21/12/2007

Descendants of the American Indian chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse yesterday declared their independence from the United States, announcing they were withdrawing from treaties signed with the federal government 150 years ago.

Russell Means: Sitting Bull's tribe declares independence
Russell Means: 'We are no longer citizens of the United States'

The Lakota Indians, whose territory includes parts of Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, sent a delegation to the State Department in Washington to deliver the news.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," said Russell Means, an Indian rights activist.

The tribal group said it was unilaterally pulling out from a series of treaties signed in the 19th century that it described as "worthless words on worthless paper" because they had been "repeatedly violated in order to steal our culture, our land and our ability to maintain our way of life".

Mr Means said the new country would issue passports and driving licences, and its citizens would live tax-free.


Map of possible location of Lakota Nation if cession from the United States is successful

Oyate Wacinyapin, Russell Means, shares a gift with Bolivian Ambassador, His Excellency Mario Gustavo Guzman Saldana

Mike Gravel Rap: Power to the People. Give Peace a Chance.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Conflict over Bolivia's constitutional reform

Bolivia's New Constitution

Preamble (Personal Translation)

In times immemorial mountains rose, rivers moved, lakes formed. Vegetation and flowers covered our amazon, chaco, altiplano, planes, and valleys. We inhabited this sacred Mother Earth with different faces and since then have understood the genuine plurality of all things and our diversity as beings and cultures. Our people embodied as such, we never understood racism until suffering from it since the disasterous times of colonialism.

The Bolivian people, of plural composition, since the depths of history, inspired by the struggles of the past, in the indigenous anticolonial uprisings, in the independence, in the popular struggles of liberation, in the union, social, and indigenous marches, in the water and October wars, in the struggles for land and territory, and with the memory of our martyrs, build a new State.

A State based in respect and equality between all, with the principles of sovereignty, dignity, complimentarity, solidarity, harmony, and equity in the distribution and redistribution of social product, where the search to 'live well' predominates; with respect for the economic, social, judicial, political, and cultural plurality of the inhabitants of this land; in collective coexistence with access to water, work, education, health, and housing for all.

We leave behind the past colonial, republican, and neoliberal State. We assume the challenge of history to collectively construct the Plurinational Communitarian Unitary State of Social Right, that makes up and articulates the propositions advanced to make a Bolivia, democratic, productive, bearing and inspiring peace, engaged in integral development and free determination of peoples.

We, mothers and men, by the means of the Constituent Assembly and with the originary power of the people, declared our compromise with unity and integrity of the country.

Fulfilling the mandate of our people, with the strength of our Pachamama and thanks to God, refounded Bolivia.

Honor and glory to the martyrs of the constituent and liberating motions that have made possible this new history.

Link to full text (spanish)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nation’s Wealthy Cruelly Deprived of True Meaning of Christmas

Report: Nation’s Wealthy Cruelly Deprived Of True Meaning Of Christmas

Don't mind the horribly ironic ad for "Charlie Wilson's War", a movie that somehow presents corrupt politicians, erosion of the constitution, and CIA ineptitude that would eventually lead to the Taliban and Bin Laden as a silly campy romp.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Aren't Fascists Cool?

...apparently the "liberal" New York Times thinks so.

Members of Union Juvenil Crucenista enforce a general strike in Santa Cruz
(Photo Source-Santa Cruz's Awesomist Lesbian Blogger)

Yesterday the NY Times published on its third page a full page article, "Bolivians Now Hear Ominous Tones in Call to Arms" about Bolivia and conflict over the new Constitution and regional autonomy. Awesome opportunity to enlighten Americans about this fascinating and exotic country, Bolivia, and its current popular politics, ...right. Except the NY Times sent their very own laziest Latin America foreign correspondent Simon Romero, based in Caracas where he normally spends time signing off libelous anti-Chavez propaganda after Martinis to get the inside scoop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on all this autonomy talk that's floating around.

Simon Romero, NYTimes

The result as you would expect is a misrepresentation of current events and their political implications. Somehow Romero manages to interview the resurgent Bolivian Socialist Falange, labeling them a "right-wing group", ahem, actually you meant fascist!, and the Union Juvenil Crucenista staging a "hunger strike" in Santa Cruz's central plaza for departmental autonomy and to protest the constitution's approval without noticing their violent tactics all around him- like when these pacifist "hunger strikers" somehow found the physical strength to beat the shit out of an apolitical ex-miner sullying their plaza by being too brown. Instead Romero entertains these delusional racist sentiments through the "diversity" of the hand full of brainwashed and uncle tom indigenous participants, not representative of the actual indigenous organizations and leaders banded together in the eastern lowland indigenous confederation CIDOB, who were actually staging a counter-protest to departmental autonomy and for indigenous autonomy the day Romero filed his report with the Times! Opps, just happen to have missed that.

Of course, the article justifies these rightist fanatics for their opposition to a constitution that gives more power to the president Evo Morales (huh? Has he read the fucking text, NO!) and was "rushed" without opposition presence in Oruro because of disturbances by "street protests" in Sucre- oh, you mean fascist student youth (similar to those in Valenzuela, hmm, what's the connection?) assaulting assembly delegates and attacking police guarding the assembly with Molotov cocktails and small arms with the support of the city's conservative business and civic leaders. Instead, Santa Cruz has its illegitimate "Autonomy Statute" passed by the "Provisional Autonomy Assembly". When the fuck were they elected by popular vote? oh, that would be never.

Naturally the article does not mention the massive pro-constitution marches simultaneously taking place in La Paz or interview anyone from the MAS government. Instead, balance is provided by an interview with the naive American! Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center NGO who happens to think Evo Morales should put through progressive reforms without "empowering his political movement". Yeah, maybe if we just beg, ask real hard, be nice, and compromise our core positions the ruling capitalist elite will just roll over and give the people what they want. Oh I forgot, that's the Democratic party's strategy in the US, it's working well, I swear.

To Romero's credit, he at least mentions the issue of control over natural gas exploitation, but subsumes its class and racial implications in the western hemisphere's most indigenous and second poorest country in favor of memories of historical regional divisions, parroting Bolivian rightist and corporate press discourse. The one bit of sane insight into the complexity that is Bolivia is provided by the only pro-government voice at the end of the piece, an "indigenous land activist" (the issue of land ownership is not mentioned once previously throughout the entire article) in stating, "The elite would prefer us to be in reservations or on wall paintings, as in the United States. We are not about to let that happen."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Que Viva Bolivia!

Joan Baez and Mimi Farina singing Viva mi patria Bolivia. I like it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AP News Flash: "Actually, We Have No Idea What We're Talking About"

Why read primary sources or talk with those crazy Indians when you can make stuff up?

Correction: Bolivia-Constitution
© AP
2007-12-11 21:35:31 -
ORURO, Bolivia (AP) - In a Dec. 9 story about the approval of a new draft constitution in Bolivia, The Associated Press erroneously reported that the charter would enable President Evo Morales to run for re-election indefinitely.Last-minute changes to the document stipulate that a Bolivian president may serve no more than two consecutive five-year terms, according to Morales. The governing party said Morales' current mandate doesn't count toward the term limit.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

That's all Folks

CPE approved!

Through the night and morning the CA convened in Oruro approved the new constitution, article by article with 165 delegates present of 255 - not a absolute 2/3 of 170. PODEMOS boycotted, but UN (center-right) participated, I am assuming most of MNR boycotted as well. All articles were approved with 2/3 of those present except, guess what, the definition of latifundio (illegally extensive land hold), ugh- more work for devin. The civic committees of the "media luna" plus Sucre have, as expected, rejected the text as "illegal" and claim they will declare defacto autonomy on the 14th, as they have been saying they will do since the 6th of August. Not as radical a move as you might think considering the text recognizes their autonomy, and they may get a surprise if indigenous groups like the Guarani declare their "defacto autonomy" as well- oops, "we didn't mean indios when talked that whole autonomy business". Basically all this means is that the CA is effectively finished (without the near taint of bloodshed in Sucre) and everything moves to referendum next year, a super vote that will likely include referendums on the Presidency and departmental governors as well- just throwing everything on the table. Real discussion in the CA has been dead for months and the quicker the move on the better in my opinion- I'm sure the Right would have liked the stay and continue debate (maybe about whether Oruro should be the capital or whether indigenous people should count as four-fifths of a person) until kingdom come. There really wasn't much to discuss and talk over even when I left, it all just needed to move on, find an exit. I am sure all of the delegates in MAS and allying parties are happy to be done with it all, most were already on the disillusioned side when I left three months ago.

The Right and "media luna" will talk big talk in the coming days, hold rallies, but with the referendum coming, and conservative governors asses on the line in it as well, I doubt anything spectacular will happen- like secesionist civil war, a coup, roadblocks, violent clashes, but who knows- maybe the CIA? Sucre has disgraced itself before the whole country (who the fuck else gives a shit about them being the capital besides delusional conservatives?) and will not soon recover before others eyes, or mine. I honestly think this super referendum business is the smartest move MAS and Evo have done in a while, given the divisions over the CA (central to the MAS overall political project), it is fair and democratic! to put the entire government, and conservative local governors on the other side, along with the CPE before the people for approval. Imagine Bush and Democrats doing something like this over their contentious legislation and actions, "huh? democracy, voting, people, what?". Well, given all the fighting and drama over this new text, it actually isn't that radical, a pretty tame document.

Well, that was a well deserved rant- hope its readable.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Party in Oruro!

Thank god they decided to move the CA to Oruro. For me, it seemed like the natural choice. Cochabamba would be symbolic as the site of the Water War and start of the popular mobilizations leading to the CA, but today it is a very divided city, as the deadly events of January 11th attest and the presence of fascist groups like "Youth for Democracy" would certainly endanger the CA. Additionally other sites, La Paz and the Chapare are bastions of MAS supporters, would intimidate the Right and create another excuse for them to cry foul. Oruro does not have a recent history of militant mobilizations for any side, or any social sector for that matter, and I believe it can act as neutral space- although watch as the Right does what it can to divide the populace of this city as well and block the completion of the CA. I expect a number delegates from PODEMOS to boycott no matter what guarantees are made. Well hopefully the CA will come to its fulfillment in this rich gem of Bolivian cultural patrimony, Oruro!


La Paz, Dec 08 (ABI).- The new Bolivian Political Constitution will be approved in detail and through a revision in the Centre of International Conventions of Oruro’s Technical University, from 18.00 afternoon on Saturday, according to a confirmation given by Assembly’s board.

In that way it has been put aside all kind of speculations that were given by some media in last days, as such national as international ones, information that was taken extra officially from the board of directors.

"Constituent Assembly’s board summons whole constituent members to continue with Constituent Assembly’s plenary session on 8 Saturday December of 2007, at 18.00 p.m. at the Centre of Conventions of Oruro’s Technical University (UTO)", according to a communicate that was known at 00.45 a.m.

The program points out the following points: first, assistance control; then the approbation and revision of the new Bolivian Political Constitution; and finally, other issues.

Although, the decision was assumed by the majority of Constituent Assembly’s board at 18.00 on Friday, the fourth Vice President of the forum, Angel Villacorta asked the re-consideration of the summoning.

That debate was prolonged until mid night, moment when the board of directors’s majority ratified the resolution assumed before at 18.00, fact that caused opponent constituent member to leave the meeting.

Before that, afternoon Friday, Committee of Integration and Compatibilization concluded its work after two weeks of hard work that analyzed the new Constitutional text, which consists on 408 amendments.

Potosi’s Assembly member, Victor Borda, said that once concluded his responsibility only lasts to begin the revision in detail of the new Carta Magna until 14 Friday December of 2007, as it was established by the law of conclave’s extension.

Borda explained that inside the miner regime, it was established temporary dispositions; so that its adaptation could be included in the new Constitutional text, as well as the modifications of form inside the Education, and others.

"Practically it was improved the new Constitutional text with its 408 amendments. At the moment we could say that our mission was fulfilled and only remains its approval in detail as well as the place where it is going to take place. But that is an initiative of Constituent Assembly", the authority assured it before knowing that they had decided for Oruro city.

For his part, constituent member Marco Antonio Carrillo manifested that it should not cause any surprise if the new Bolivian Political Constitution will be approved by two thirds from a total of 255 constituent members of the magno forum.

"While Assembly’s board and the Committee of Integration and Compatibilization were working, it has been developed a series of actions in different levels of decision and as a political force in order to consolidate the two thirds of the total of constituent members", assembly member manifested.

However, Carrillo said that if they do not get into an agreement, the amendments that were not agreed will be given to the repeal referendum. What is more, the results will be included in the new constitutional text and finally put under the consideration of Bolivian people through an uphold referendum.

For his part, assembly member Carlos Romero pointed out that once the plenary was installed; then, the 408 amendments will be read one by one in order to start a debate in five thematic blocks. That fact does not correspond to the discussion of each one, because all of them are related or joined in some way.

Romero explained that the five thematic blocks are: State’s models and policy system; the letter of rights; the functional and land structure from the public power, the model of economic social development model; and the hierarchy of norms and the proceeding of the Constitutional reform.

"Each political bench will have 15 minutes for presenting their points of views, as well as their suggestions with respect to the five thematic blocks and then it will be proceeded to the approval of each amendment; for finally conclude with the phase in detail", assembly member manifested.

Romero said that at the same time it will be approved in detail the amendments of the new Constitutional text; and at last, the Commission of Concordance and Style will have the mission of realizing the respective corrections in the phase of revision.

"With all mentioned, the work is finally finished. We are going o have a new Constitution approved by two thirds, and if some amendments do not reach 2/3, we will try to get into an agreement, but if everything remains, we are going to send it to the repeal referendum", he assured.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Cochabamba March



COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, Thursday, December 6th, 2007 (ABI).- Thousands of workers, peasants, farmers, coca growers, indigenous people, and citizens gathered in 14 de Septiembre Square supporting Bolivian Assembly and the process of change promoted by Evo Morales.

Social leaders call on governors of the "Media Luna" to let the people decide whether they should stay in office or not, just as President Morales proposed Wednesday night.

The people waved Bolivia flags and carried placards while expressing support for the process of change that according to Morales will give poor Bolivians a say in running the country in democracy.
Photos from Indymedia Bolivia

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Evo ups the ante in current battle with opposition



- Bolivian head of state called a press conference at the Government Palace in La Paz and affirmed the decision was taken in order to give Bolivians the opportunity to vote in a Recall Referendum to decide whether or not the President and Bolivian Governors should be removed from office.

LA PAZ, (Bolivia), Wednesday, December 5th, 2007 (ABI).- Bolivian President Evo Morales surprised Bolivians and proposed to hold a recall referendum to determine whether he and Bolivia’s nine Governors should be recalled from office.

Bolivian head of state called a press conference at the Government Palace in La Paz and affirmed the decision was taken in order to give Bolivians the opportunity to vote in a Recall Referendum to decide whether or not the President and Bolivian Governors should be removed from office. Moreover, he affirmed that the people must decide whether to support or not process of change.

In that context, Morales will issue his recall referendum proposal to the national congress on Thursday so that it is approved and subsequently Bolivian National Electoral Court (CNE) calls for a recall referendum.

Some of Us Gringos Get It

Nick Buxton is a fellow gringo (brit) living back and forth between Bolivia, Cochabamba and London. A smart and insightful guy, we met in el Colegio Junin, Sucre, (finding a fellow gringo in the CA necessitated conversation) this last summer, and spoke English together- felt like a guilty pleasure. Whenever he writes something on Bolivian politics on his blog Open Veins I always feel like saying, "damn, I should have been quicker and written that". Well, he has done it again and written the kind of analysis you will never find on the popular Democracy Center blog run by the well meaning but usually naively high minded Jim Shultz - I wish that stereotype of us north americans would stop being vindicated. Well thats ok, I have an Irish passport.

Deadly politics of division


For an outsider, Bolivia’s politics can be confusing, and at first sight easily misleading. The tragic happenings of Sucre where three people died in protests is a point in case. Here was a popular demonstration fighting to stop a Constitutional Assembly, an initiative fought for by many Bolivians as the way to refound the State based on inclusion, plurality and social justice. Indigenous people were insulting not elites, but other indigenous people as “kollas de mierda” (Indian shits). Supposedly right-wing groups dedicated to the preservation of order spent a day attacking and burning down police stations and effectively releasing thousands of prisoners from a Sucre jail. A former vice-president to a Dictator was darkly warning of “democracy on the abyss” and blaming it all not on the protestors but the Government.

Against this morass of apparent contradictions, I have always used two tools to personally understand what is happening. The first is looking at who are the real players behind the scenes, what are their motivations, what do they have to win and lose from a given situation. In other words, follow the dynamics of power, in particular economic power. Secondly I look into the historical situation and roots of the crisis, and not just the official history written by elites but the popular history of resistance of those excluded from power. In other words unravelling dynamics of power over time and talking to those whose views are never heard in the media.

On the surface what happened is that Sucre’s population, who has been pushing for moving the capital to their city to be included within Constituent Assembly discussions, rose up in frustration at the systematic exclusion of the issue from the Assembly. For months, threats of violence had stopped the Constituent Assembly from even being able to meet. Various compromise offers of locating new State bodies in the city of Sucre and offering regional development had been rejected by the Sucre Inter-Institutional Committee set up to fight for the relocation of the capital.

Eventually MAS governing party constituent delegates, frustrated at not being able to advance for months and under pressure from social movements, decides to relocate in the military college just outside the city and approves a constitutional framework. Protests against the assembly gather force and the confrontations lead to tragic deaths, including of a MAS militant.

I was in Sucre the week the issue of “capitalia” was first put on the agenda. It was put on the table not by a Sucreño (Sucre resident) but Ruben Dario Cuellar, a right-wing delegate from Beni, part of the so-called “media luna” of provincial authorities opposed to Evo Morales’ government. It came at a time when the social movements in the “Pacto de Unidad” were successfully getting their agenda to dominate in all the different commissions. The right still had the trump card of knowing that the Constitution had to be approved by two-thirds giving them an effective veto, yet there was a sense that they were on the defensive.

It was no coincidence that it was exactly at this point in time that the issue of relocating the capital was put on the table. It was classic division tactics. It created splits in MAS putting delegates from Chuquisaca (the department of Sucre) against fellow delegates from La Paz and El Alto. It had the potential to win over Chuquisaca, which voted in the majority for MAS in both general and constitutional elections. It posed an intractable problem for the Government forced to mediate between two regions with neither prepared to give ground. It pulled the wind out of MAS’s sails and brought the assembly to a halt.

And who were the actors behind the scenes? In Sucre, it was the key leaders of the Inter-Institutional Committee including the Rector Jaime Barron of the University, one of the key loci of power in the colonial university town, Fidel Herrera from the municipality and close ally of the leading right-wing national leader Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga, and Jhon Cava, former militant for dictator Banzer’s party. The latter two are both known to have close links with the Right in the east of the country. The Committee managed to broaden support to some social movements too, but the power was clearly in the hands of the leading elites in Sucre known as the “Rosca.”

The key figure in Santa Cruz supporting the committee in Sucre was Branko Marinkovich of Croat descent, head of the civic committee, a millionaire and a major landowner who is facing legal actions for illegal expropriation of land. He was an obvious figurehead for a Santa Cruz elite who felt threatened by a Constituent Assembly that could entrench land redistribution and weaken departmental autonomy with indigenous autonomy.

Since Evo’s election, the Santa Cruz Civic Committee has led resistance to the MAS government with support from the other regions in the East where the Right won elections and where elites still dominated power: Beni, Pando, Tarija. Soon they also won over Manfred Reyes, Prefect of Cochabamba, an ex-graduate of the infamous US School of Americas renowned for training soldiers in torture and destabilisation. Reyes Villa was responsible for the unpopular water privatisation in Cochabamba and showed his true colours when he gave strong support to former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada at the time of the government-led massacres in El Alto in October 2003.

The regional resistance to the MAS government firstly focused on pushing for all decisions in the assembly to be made by two-thirds, then on the issue of departmental autonomy and opposition to indigenous autonomy. Putting the capitalia [issue of where the capital should be] on the agenda created the possibility of splitting off Sucre to join the Right camp.

According to Jaime Cruz, a Sucre resident, journalist and political analyst, Santa Cruz money was crucial for funding a big propaganda campaign including concerts, cultural events, even free beer for festivals. Santa Cruz right-wing activists started to rent rooms in Sucre. Marinkovich visited Sucre and met with Fidel Herrera and Jhon Dava. Through financial offers or other pressures, local media started a huge propaganda campaign for the capitalia which would come to head during the recent confrontations. The Sucre Committee also funded shock groups, who were involved in violent incidents against constituent delegates which prevented the Assembly from meeting and helped enforce the Committee’s views. “It became dangerous to speak out openly with dissident views in public spaces,” said Jaime.

Although there is no direct evidence of US embassy support for the two Committees in Sucre and Santa Cruz, it is highly likely that the US was also behind the scenes. A friend who interviewed a functionary at the embassy earlier this year was told explicitly that the US strategy was to support regional power to confront “state centralism.” An analysis of US aid programmes as recent as 2005 reveals a history of funding for parallel movements and initiatives to confront MAS and more radical social movements.

Yet it is clear that this agenda wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t so successfully tapped into historical and regional sentiments in Sucre. Focusing only on a class analysis of the elites can obscure the historical memory of resentment and pain in Sucre that lies latent like an open sore. Alicia, also from Sucre who works with alternative media explained that in Chuquisaca schools, all children are taught that the capital was stolen from Sucreños by people of La Paz and El Alto in civil war in 1899. This has been reinforced constantly by civic campaigns, including commemoration of massacres. “This is as much a consigna [banner] for Sucre as recovering the sea is for Bolivian people,” notes Alicia. Although it has a particular resonance in Sucre given the civil war, regional pride and resentment against the centralisation of power in La Paz is present across the whole of Bolivia. In this light, the huge demonstration by La Paz in August against moving the capital just increased anger and resentment of Sucrenos, even those who had supported MAS.

This regional resentment was not counterbalanced by a historical process of revalorisation of Bolivia's indigenous roots that has taken place in other parts of Bolivia. Sucre was noticeably at the periphery of demonstrations against neo-liberalism. In October 2003, when the rest of the country was wracked by anti-government and pro-nationalisation protests, Sucre was relatively untouched. Votes for MAS in 2005 and 2006 did not arise out of struggle, but probably more likely an unclear desire for change. Meanwhile the city remained dominated by a largely conservative racist mindset. This became clear early on in the establishment of the Constituent Assembly when many indigenous assembly delegates found themselves excluded from hotels, refused lifts in taxis and on occasions hit on the streets.

To understand this, it is important to go back even further than the civil war to the formation of Sucre as a city founded by owners of mines in Potosi which became the capital of a Republic led by a largely white, mestizo elite. The city today still ties itself to a republican, racist and colonial identity. “These values are replicated in key families of the city who have retained power. It is a very static society. Holding the assembly here was a confrontation with the reality of a diverse society with different visions,” comments Alicia. The mixture of conservatism, racism and regional resentment was a potent mix for mobilising against the Assembly.

MAS also fell into this trap seeing only the clearly divisive elements of the Right’s involvement and not the regional sentiment that the Right was milking. When MAS illegally excluded the issue of capitalia from the assembly, this created resentment and provided ample ammunition to the Right to step up the campaign. “People felt betrayed, especially those who had voted for MAS,” noted Jaime Cruz.

On the back of a concerted highly organised campaign across all media and even in schools, the demand for capitalia gradually started to be taken aboard by more popular sectors and not just the middle classes and elites. “You would meet working women in the market who said the fight for capitalia was about giving more opportunities to their children,” said Alicia. Against a rising tide of pro-capitalia propaganda, strong political support of Santa Cruz elite and a radicalisation of the Committee’s stand MAS’s compromise offers came too late.

By the time, MAS had decided to plough ahead and hold the Constituent Assembly, the scene was set for the violence. The added ingredient was a high level of media incitation which has a frightening resonance with the fascist Hutu-radios before and during the Rwanda genocide (a country I visited some years ago). Carla Guevara, who is helping set up a much-needed Observatory on Racism, was visiting Sucre during the confrontations and saw what she describes as the “construction of the internal enemy.” “Right from the beginning, the news channels were saying that the Police are ‘massacring our people” when the only thing being fired was teargas. Then they said that 50 students were being held prisoner and being tortured when that wasn’t true. They were not verifying facts as media should do, but turning any rumours into reality.” It was disinformation but it was highly effective. A protest which started by middle-class and student support suddenly had the backing of the whole population.

The result was the death of three people in fierce confrontations against the police. Carla says there was no doubt that the police responded determinedly and “hard” against demonstrators, but that the students and others fighting against them were even more ferocious in their attacks launching a barrage of dynamite, racist insults and molotovs against the police. The confrontations also sparked a series of racist attacks against many people who had nothing to do with the protests or the Assembly. Elsa Vasquez from El Alto present in Sucre for a women’s conference told me about a terrifying experience of being chased along with other women by young drunk men, pleading for help from police too afraid to assist them, and having to hide in a forest for several hours hearing shouts of “Those Indian shits are definitely here. We need to kill them.” She eventually managed to get help by pretending to be from Potosi rather than La Paz.

Several days on, the outlook is worrying. It is possible that a compromise will be reached but it appears instead that both sides are digging in for the endgame. The Government has sworn that it will fight to push through a constitution and will be under strong pressure from social movements not to dilute the constitution to a meaningless document that changes nothing. The Right fearful of structural change that affects their interests and surging on a tide of fear and relentless propaganda against the government has promised to fight tooth and nail against the existing Constitutional framework.

In this fight to the finish, it is clear that the Right which was so comprehensively defeated in elections in December 2005 has milked regional sentiments and politics of division to build a very effective opposition to the Government. In so doing, they have laid bare an ugly racism that exists below the surface in Bolivia. The Government made a huge mistake not just in Sucre, but other regions to tackle this effectively and intelligently. The disfunction of Bolivia is not just a result of an oligarchic State but also a centralised State that has created resentments that the Right have used to devastating effect. Yet it is clear that it is ultimately the belligerence of the Right and their refusal to accept even moderate change that is likely to lead to further loss of human life. And just as in Sucre, it is unlikely to be either politicians or elites who will lose lives but ordinary people manipulated to take to the streets believing their actions will offer a better future for their children.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Che Film Shoot Begins in Bolivia

La Prensa, Cuba

La Paz, Dec 4 (Prensa Latina) Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro began filming "Guerrilla" on Tuesday, telling media he was an admirer of Ernesto Che Guevara, whom he plays, and who was murdered in La Higuera, Bolivia on October 9, 1967.

Del Toro, who went to Quemado Palace last night to celebrate Latin American Medicine Day, said two of his dreams have come true in Bolivia: to learn of the work of Cuban doctors and to meet President Evo Morales.

The Oscar-winning actor (Traffic, 2000) said he was feeling secure to be under direction again of US director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Sex, Lies and Video Tapes), with whom he visited Quemado Palace.

The film will portray the moment when Che met current Cuban President Fidel Castro in Mexico, and narrates moments of his stay in Cuba, besides his speech before the United Nations.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Through the Fascist Mirror

These are some contemporary political cartoons from Bolivia, a window into the conservative opposition's world view.

Right: "Yes, My journalist friends, we are finishing our constitutional project" Left(CA President Silvia Lazarte): "Ya, yes, ya, I see comrade Chavez! yea.."

God only knows an uneducated chola like Silvia Lazarte and other masistas are totally incapable of independent thought, taking their orders from Hugo Chavez as Bolivia becomes a colony of his communist tyranny.

Leading Evo away from Chavez: "No! Bad example, no!"

We all know indios are children in need of guidance.

Reporter: "What do you think of this frank interference by Chavez?" Evo's mouth stuffed with "Venezuelan petro-dollars"

Yup, Evo is just a stooge of Chavez- and all of his supports (the majority of Bolivians) are just being bought off or sold lies. Bolivia's true patriots know instead to take money from USAID, National Endowment for Democracy and the CIA.

Silvia Lazarte: "I have the power(accented), the power!" Paint roller: Article 6 Modification allowing her to convene the Asamblea Constituyente outside of Sucre.

Yeah, MAS' desire to convene the CA outside of Sucre is because those ignorant indios are mad with power. It couldn't have anything to do with violent student youth gangs supported by business civic leaders harassing and assaulting assembly delegates in the streets.

Silvia Lazarte: "Brothers and Sisters we now have the new constitution approved in full!"

That's right, the Constitution approved with language written in compromise with the center-right despite conservative parties boycotting the vote as violent mobs, uh, peaceful protesters assaulted police guarding the CA's refuge outside of Sucre with dynamite, Molotov cocktails, burning tires, and small arms, is a 'pact with death' meant to decentralize power and fully recognize indigenous rights after 500 years of marginalization and discrimination... I mean implement a genocidal "indian revenge" against white and mestizo people under Evo's tyrannical rule.

Yeah, Santa Cruz Autonomy! raise that swastika... I mean cross.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

And now a real analysis

Making Sense of Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform

The Venezuelan government's effort to create "21st century socialism" is moving ahead full-steam with the December 2nd constitutional reform referendum. While tensions and confusion about the reform are rising in Venezuela, it is important to realize that this reform will mean both less and more than most outside observers seem to think. That is, as usual, many pundits, such as from the Venezuelan opposition and from so-called international experts, are painting a picture of a Venezuela that is about to finally slip into "Castro-communism," a picture that could hardly be further from the truth and that has been falsely predicted for Chavez's entire presidency of now nine years. While there are negative or not-so-good aspects of the reform, which for the most part involve giving the president some more powers, the Venezuelan president, even after the reform, is still does not have as much institutional power as the U.S. president. On the other hand, in the process of focusing on the centralizing aspects of the reform, most observers willfully miss the ways in which the positive aspects of the upcoming reform have the potential to make Venezuelan political life more in tune with the interests of the country's mostly poor majority.

Shortly after President Hugo Chavez was reelected on December 6, 2006, he announced that a reform of the 1999 constitution would be one of the first tasks of his second full term as president. According to Chavez, the reform was to smooth the path for the creation of "Bolivarian" or "21st Century" socialism because the 1999 constitution was a product of a more moderate president and population.[1] On August 15 of this year, eight months after his reelection, Chavez presented his proposal to alter 33 articles of the constitution to the National Assembly (AN). The AN, according to the constitution, is allowed to discuss and revise the president's proposal over a period of two years. However, following a relatively rushed process that was accompanied by numerous public forums in all parts of the country, the AN added another 36 article changes and passed the entire proposal with the required two-thirds majority on November 2. The National Electoral Council then had 30 days to organize a national referendum on the proposal, which is now scheduled to take place on December 2nd.[2]

What the Reform is About

Chavez's constitutional reform project deepens policies in five main areas: participatory democracy, social inclusion, non-neoliberal (socialist?) economic development, politico-territorial reorganization, and stronger (or more effective?) central government. In addition, there are a few changes that don't fit into any of these categories, mainly because they don't do anything much, except adorn an already very progressive constitution. While the vast majority of these changes are progressive, in the sense that they deepen democracy and social inclusion, some can be considered regressive, in the sense that they weaken earlier achievements of the 1999 constitution. Also, one must recognize, just as some in the Chavez government have argued, that the reform represents a "transition" towards "21st century socialism," not its full implementation, which is still somewhat unclear. As such, it misses elements that progressives in many countries would consider essential for real socialism. Let us briefly review each of the above-mentioned aspects of the reform, before turning to the political context of the reform.

Deepening Participatory Democracy

In one of the greatest departures from the 1999 constitution, the reform proposal introduces a new level of government, the "popular power" (art. 136 of the reform proposal). This power is in addition to the municipal, state, and national powers of the political system. The popular power represents the "lowest" level of government, in that it is the organization of communities in forms of direct democracy. Because of this, the reform states, "The people are the depositories of sovereignty and exercise it directly via the popular power. This is not born of suffrage nor any election, but out of the condition of the human groups that are organized as the base of the population."

The opposition has tried to twist the meaning of this article, claiming that it lays the groundwork for dictatorship because it supposedly means that the authorities of the popular power are named from above, since they are not elected.[3] This, however, represents a willful misunderstanding, as the popular power is supposed to be the place where democracy is direct, that is, unmediated by elected representatives. This is not to say that there wouldn't be any elections at this level, but that those who are elected are not representatives, but are delegates of the community, who are to execute the community's decisions. Currently this popular power takes the form of the citizen assemblies and their communal councils. According to the reform, it would also take the form of worker, student, youth, elderly, women, etc. councils.

Another more sophisticated criticism has been that incorporating popular power, in the form of the various forms of popular organizations, into the state's structure implies a cooptation of civil society.[4] That is, citizens, by virtue of their activism, would be turned into civil servants. This would be true if all of civil society, in its totality, were to be absorbed into state structures. However, the reform limits the popular power to those councils or groups that are organized in accordance with the constitution and the law as being part of the popular power. In other words, rather than co-opting or absorbing all of civil society into the state, the reform proposes to provide more democratic and more consistent channels for citizen involvement in their self-governance. Civil society groups that are organized outside of these channels would still be free to organize and mobilize independently of the state.

However, since power is to be devolved from municipal, state, and national governments to the popular power (art. 168, 184, 264, 265, 279, 295), that is, to the communal and other councils, consistent channels for the use of this power must be established, which is done via the councils of the popular power. Many reform articles, for example, state that communities are to be involved in the co-management of businesses (art. 184), that municipalities must involve the popular power in their activities (art. 168), that they have a role in the nomination of members of the judicial, electoral, and citizen branches of government (art. 264, 265, 279, 295), and that they receive at least 5% of the national budget (art. 167) for their community projects.

Deepening Social and Political Inclusion

The second area that the constitutional reform deepens is social and political inclusion by giving all citizens the right to equal access to city resources ("right to the city," art. 18),[5] prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and health condition (art. 21), including young people in the political process by lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 years (art. 64), requiring gender parity in candidacies for elected office (art. 64), protecting people from having their primary home expropriated due to bankruptcy (art. 82), introducing a social security fund for self- and informally employed Venezuelans (art. 87), guaranteeing free university education (art. 103),[6] recognizing and promoting the culture Venezuelans of African descent (art. 100), and giving university students parity in the election of university authorities (art. 109). These are all forms of social and political inclusion that, if realized, would place Venezuela at the forefront in the world in this regard.

Deepening Non-Capitalist (Socialist?) Economic Development

Next, the reform would move Venezuela further along a path of non-capitalist economic development.[7] That is, the effort to deepen non-capitalist and perhaps socialist development is centered on strengthening democratic control over the economy while weakening private sector control. For example, the central bank, which is normally under the sway of international financial institutions, would no longer be independent (art. 318, 320, 321) and the state may turn food producing and distributing businesses over to public or collective control in order to guarantee food security (art. 305). Also, the state oil company PDVSA will face stronger restrictions against privatization (art. 303).

The 1999 constitution had stated that PDVSA may not be privatized, but that its subsidiaries could. However, since PDVSA is a holding company that consists only of subsidiaries, it could, in theory, be entirely privatized by a government so inclined. The reform would prohibit the privatization of any national components of PDVSA. In other words, the often money-losing international subsidiaries of PDVSA could still be privatized at some point.

In addition to strengthening the state's involvement in the economy, the reform also strengthens the role of organized communities and of workers in the economy. For example, land reform is made more effective by allowing its beneficiaries (mostly cooperatives) to occupy land they have been granted before court challenges to the land redistribution are settled in court (art. 115). Until now, the land reform has often been hampered by land owners who would tie up the reform in court for many years, while the land would remain idle.

Reducing the workweek from 44 to 36 hours per week would give workers more power, vis-à-vis employers (art. 90).[8] Workers rights are also strengthened in that the reform opens the possibility for greater workplace self-management, via worker councils (art. 70, 136) and directives that publicly owned enterprises should involve greater self-management (184 no. 2).

Also, eliminating intellectual property while maintaining authors' rights to their creations, makes it more difficult for companies to profit from the creative work of others, while still protecting authors' rights over their productions (art. 98).

In addition to strengthening the position of the state and of workers relative to private capital, the reform would also strengthen the position of domestic business relative to international business because it removes the requirement that foreign companies be treated the same as national companies (art. 301).

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the reform introduces a variety of new forms of property that move the notion or property away from purely individualistic conceptions (art. 115). These new forms are collective, social, and public property. Critics have pointed out that the differences are poorly defined, which is true.[9] Nonetheless, these different forms open up the possibility for the creation of socialist production enterprises, as the state has planned.[10]

Altogether, these forms of strengthening workers and of the state with regard to private capital definitely represent a move away from classical capitalism. The degree to which it represents 21st century socialism rather than social democracy or state socialism will depend on exactly which direction and how far these moves are taken in the laws that will work out the details of the constitutional mandates.

Developing a "New Geometry of Power"

The "New Geometry of Power" is perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of the constitutional reform. The opposition and the oppositional media consistently interpret it as a blatant effort to give President Chavez dictatorial power over states and municipalities. Indeed, the reform lends itself to this misreading because it says the president may designate a variety of new politico-geographic areas, such as federal territories, federal municipalities, federal cities, and "functional districts," and may name the respective authorities, without defining the power of these authorities or the function of these new territorial divisions (art. 16).

However, it is absurd to claim that the lack of a clear definition in this regard means that these new territorial divisions or the respective authorities would take power away from elected representatives if the reformed constitution does not say that their powers would be diminished in any way. Rather, the main purpose of this new geometry of power, according to government representatives, is to allow the president to designate national resources and presidential powers to particular areas. That is, the idea is to concentrate national attention and resources on specific areas, regardless of their existing politico-geographic boundaries, that are in need of such attention because of their poverty or their unused human or physical resources. Existing local power structures would remain untouched and unaffected by the designation of these areas, other than in the sense of receiving more national government attention. If anything, the reform implies that communal councils can form governing structures at the city-wide level, thereby moving power down to the communities, rather than up to the president.[11]

The real question in regard to this aspect of the reform is whether it is necessary to include the president's ability to designate federal territories in the constitutional reform at all, since they do not alter existing power structures. The president already has the power to focus national government attention on specific regions, which he has done via the nuclei of endogenous development. These are zones for special government attention that appear to be quite similar to those proposed in the constitutional reform, but which were created by presidential decree, without specific constitutional authorization. Including this aspect of the territorial reorganization in the reform thus appears to give additional authorization for something that the president can already do.

More importantly, though, for the reform and for a new geometry of power, is the president's and the National Assembly's new ability to re-organize municipal boundaries (art. 156 no. 11, 236 no. 3). While the politico-territorial division of states within the country's borders was always and still is a matter of a national law, with the reform the president appears to have the authority to re-organize the municipalities within the individual states, which used to have that power. This is an important change because Venezuela's municipalities are organized in a completely irrational manner that goes back as much as 200 years and has rarely been changed. The rationale for giving the president the power to reorganize these is that this needs to be done with a national-rather than parochial-vision in mind.

Strengthening Of the Presidency and the National Government

This last point, about the reform giving the president the power to reorganize municipal boundaries, touches on the larger issue of the reform slightly strengthening the president's powers in a variety of ways. Of course, the oppositional media (including the international pundits) consistently present this as "sweeping new powers," without backing this up. The most controversial changes in this regard include the removal of the two-term limit on serving as president (art. 230). However, over half of the heads of government in the world have "sweeping power," including some of the world's most respected democracies, such as France, Germany, Britain, and Italy.

Removing the limit on the number of reelections and extending the presidential term from six to seven years (art. 230) are meant to strengthen the presidency in order to carry out the long-term project of Venezuela's political and economic transformation from capitalism to socialism. In a way, opponents ought to be grateful that Chavez is not proposing a transition within his current presidential term (which lasts another five years), but a transition with a much longer time line, which would be far less traumatic and thus gives the opposition far more opportunities to reverse the project.

Extending Chavez's presidency (if reelected) is a mixed problem, though. On the one hand, Chavez supporters are right to say that it is more democratic if citizens are free to elect whomever they choose, as often as they choose, without artificial limitations. On the other hand, supporters of this principle ought to address the main reason such unlimited reelections are often prohibited, which is that presidents tend to accumulate power and can use the advantages of their office to make it more difficult for challengers to eventually win the presidency. This would mean placing strict restrictions on using the office of the president in one's presidential campaign. Currently limitations of this sort are rather limited in Venezuela.

The other controversial strengthening of the office of the president is the reform's toughening of states of emergency. According to the reform, the right to being informed would be suspended during a state of emergency, which implies that censorship may be used in such situations (art. 337). The rationale for this is that the April 2002 coup attempt was based on manipulating the media to fabricate events that ended up justifying the coup. A state of emergency, according to Chavez supporters, would have to take such a course of events into account. Contrary to most news reports, though, the state of emergency still includes the right to defense, to a trial, to communication, and not to be tortured. This is more than one can say for the current situation in the U.S., where the president has the authority to arrest people without due process, according to the recently passed Military Commissions Act.

Another area where the office of the president is being strengthened is in his ability to promote all military officers, not just high-ranking ones, as was previously the case (art. 236 no. 8). While this strengthens the president's control over the military and will probably increase the premium placed on loyalty to the president, it is not a "sweeping power" that will turn Venezuela into a dictatorship. Rather, this is something that ought to be within the purview of the military's commander in chief, even if it might not be the wisest way to handle promotions.

Another common criticism of the reform with regard to the president's "sweeping powers" is that the president may name as many vice-presidents (including regional ones) as he or she chooses (art. 236 no. 5). However, considering that the reform text does not say what these vice-presidents' powers would be, the only possible interpretation is that they have none except those that the president is already authorized to give to other members of his cabinet. Contrary to common perception, the powers of the vice-president thus cannot usurp the powers of any other elected official. In effect, vice-presidents would be nothing else than glorified ministers.

A change that has received little attention from the opposition, presumably because they support it, is that the reform makes citizen-initiated referenda more difficult by substantially increasing (by up to 100%) the signature requirements for launching such referenda (art. 71-74). The argument for this change is that frivolous referendum petitions must be prevented, especially since the referendum procedure is quite costly for the Venezuelan state. For example, few people noticed that none of the referendum petitions for members of the national assembly succeeded in 2004, even though dozens of petitions had been filed to recall pro-Chavez and opposition representatives. The signature collection and verification process costs millions of dollars and may be initiated on the whim of groups that claim they have the ability to collect the requisite signatures.

However, by increasing the signature requirements, in most cases more petition signatures will be needed to organize the referendum than votes will be needed for the referendum to pass. Such a situation reverses the logic of the signature collection process, which is merely supposed to indicate sufficient interest in a possible referendum, not represent a higher hurdle than the vote itself. In the end, the referendum process is thus significantly weakened (and the national government thus strengthened) in the name of greater efficiency, when other procedures might have been found that do not weaken the citizen-initiated referendum process as a whole.

Chavez has argued that he needs these relatively modest increased powers in order to defend the project against those who would oppose it by illegal means and in order to bring about more changes more effectively.[12] In other words, the strengthening of the president's office continues the slightly contradictory trajectory of the Chavez years, where greater democracy and greater citizen participation is introduced from the top, by the president. Strengthening the presidency thus, in this process, is also supposed to mean strengthening participatory democracy.

Unnecessary Changes

While the vast majority of proposed changes to the 1999 constitution indeed deepen participatory democracy and social inclusion, there are several changes that don't seem to add much other than nice words to the constitution. This is particularly the case with the terms "socialism" and "socialist" that the reform introduces in at least 11 of the reform articles, without ever defining what the term means (art. 16, 70, 112, 113, 158, 168, 184, 299, 300, 318, 321). Again, critics have attempted to interpret this as an effort to eliminate political pluralism, saying that using this term would mean that non-socialists would not be allowed to participate in the political system.[13] Such an interpretation is perhaps justified by the way the term was used in state socialist countries of the East Block, but there is no indication in the current constitution that this is a valid interpretation. As former education minister Aristobulo Isturiz points out,[14] Spain's constitution refers to its political system as a parliamentary monarchy, but this does not mean that those who are opposed to monarchies are not allowed to participate in Spain's political system. In other words, there is nothing in the reform that could limit Venezuela's explicitly pluralist political system (article 2) in any way.

Still, the inclusion of the term "socialist" in many parts of the referendum seems unnecessary, other than to give a label to something that has not been proven to deserve this label. Also, given that the meaning of the concept of socialism (unlike that of monarchy) is a hotly contested one, putting such a label on Venezuela's political and economic system opens it up to abuse. The danger that the label is confused with the ideal is quite real. After all, the state socialist countries of the East Block were labeled socialist, but that alone does not mean that they were. It seems far wiser to simply go about creating socialism in the sense of achieving liberty, equality, and social justice for all and then leave it to historians to decide whether the Venezuelan system deserves the label "socialist."

Another clearly unnecessary change is the inclusion of the social programs known as missions in the reform (art. 141). Given that the missions are operating just fine within given social framework, it is not clear at all why these need to be "legitimated" by being mentioned in the constitution.

Missing Changes

Despite the large number and large reach of the changes that the National Assembly and President Chavez are proposing, these changes fail to include issues that would go even further in creating socialism in Venezuela. For example, if socialism means true equality of opportunity, then it ought to include a woman's right to an abortion. This, though, is still not part of Venezuela's constitution, largely because there is no consensus within the government coalition in favor of such a change. Also, if socialism means real self-determination, then the reform should include much stronger provisions for self-management in all workplaces, both public and private. Next, if citizen participation is a key feature of 21st century socialism, then the power of communal councils should be extended to regional and even national levels, not just city-wide levels, to either compete with or displace representative democracy on these levels. Finally, if 21st century socialism means assuring a fair and sustainable production and distribution of goods and services that go beyond the distribution mechanisms of the market and of the state, then new forms of distribution and production need to be invented. The reform does not touch on this at all, though, presumably because such a change would require a completely new constitution, with the convocation of another constitutional assembly.

Prospects for the Reform

As the above review of the constitutional reform shows, the vast majority of changes would deepen participatory democracy, social inclusion, and non-capitalist economic development. Those relatively limited changes that strengthen the presidency, which Chavez and his supporters say are needed for pushing the other reforms even further, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered "sweeping new powers," as critics and the media like to call them. Although the necessity and wisdom of some of the changes are definitely debatable, the most controversial changes that strengthen the president's powers, such as eliminating limits on reelection, eliminating central bank autonomy, tightening control over the military, strengthening states of emergency, and increasing the president's ability to reorganize the politico-territorial divisions of Venezuela do not represent dictatorial powers - not even close.

The only reason Chavez appears to have dictatorial powers in the eyes of the opposition is because he and his supporters control all branches of government, which, indeed, makes "checks and balances" against presidential power more difficult. But whose fault is it that Chavez and his supporters control all five branches[15] of the Venezuelan state? Ultimately, the Venezuelan people and the opposition are responsible for this situation. The Venezuelan people are responsible because they are the ones who have voted in support of Chavez and his coalition parties over and over again, with overwhelming majorities (the last time with a near 2/3 majority of 63% of the vote in last year's presidential election). The opposition is responsible because they have consistently messed-up, boycotted, and otherwise obstructed the democratic process in Venezuela, thereby losing political credibility and popular support.

Despite this rather depressing state of affairs for the opposition, Chavez handed the opposition yet another chance to redeem itself when he launched the constitutional reform. Chavez says that this move was necessary for the deepening of Venezuela's socialist transformation, but, strictly speaking, many of these changes could have been made without the reform and those that could not, could have waited until 2012 for a more deliberate reform process than the one that took place.

By rushing the reform process Chavez presented the opposition with a nearly unprecedented opportunity to deal him a serious blow. Also, the rush in which the process was pushed forward opened him to criticism that the process was fundamentally flawed, which has become one of the main criticisms of the more moderate critics of the reform.[16] The loss of these former moderate Chavez supporters serves to strengthen the opposition. Also, the rush makes it easier for the opposition to paint the reform on its terms than on the government's terms. After all, it is always far easier to spread disinformation about something quite complex such as the reform than it is to spread serious and well-reasoned explanations about it while also correcting the disinformation.

This is why the reform appears to have suffered some setbacks in public opinion. Opposition-affiliated and government-affiliated opinion polls appear to be farther apart than they have ever been, compared to earlier electoral contests during the Chavez presidency. Part of the explanation for this divergence is, first and foremost, the confusion about the reform and the consequent unwillingness of a large segment of the population to commit to vote either for or against it. Abstention will thus be relatively high. And high abstention makes voting trends notoriously difficult to predict, which means that it is more likely that opinion polls will reflect the biases of their contractors.

In the end, it all boils down to which side mobilizes more supporters. That is, while it seems that the undecided lean against the reform, Chavez supporters tend to be far more enthusiastic about their support for their leader and thus far more easily mobilizable than the opposition is. In other words, if turnout is high, around 60 to 70%, it is likely that the vote will be very close, while if it is low, around 50% or less, the yes side will win.

Unfortunately, if the constitutional reform passes by a small margin, this increases the likelihood that the opposition will falsely claim fraud and will mobilize its more radical elements to launch a destabilization campaign. Such a claim, though, as many opposition supporters have begun to recognize,[17] will have no basis in reality because the electoral system has become more transparent and more verifiable than nearly any electoral system in the world. All eyes will be on Venezuela and only a sound defeat of false fraud claims, both nationally and internationally, will avert greater tensions in Venezuela's still deepening political process that has created more democracy and more social inclusion.

Gregory Wilpert is author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso Books, 2007) and is principal editor of

What you won't read

Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform

An Article-by-Article Summary

by Gregory Wilpert

The following is an article-by-article summary of the changes being proposed to Venezuela's 1999 constitution. The summary is in no way official and should only be used as an aid in making sense of the proposed constitutional reform. The official reform text is quite long (31 pages), as it includes the full text of each to be changed article, even if only one sentence or word was changed in the article. Making out what, exactly, the changes are relative to the original 1999 constitution can thus be a sometimes time-consuming and difficult task.

Venezuelans will vote on the reform on December 2nd and will do so in two blocks. Block "A" includes President Chavez's original proposal, as amended by the National Assembly, which would change 33 articles out of the 350 articles in the constitution. Also included in block A are another 13 articles introduced by the National Assembly. Block "B" includes another 26 reform articles proposed by the National Assembly. Voters may vote "Yes" or "No" on each block.

Reform Question: "Are you in agreement with the approval of the constitutional reform project, passed by the National Assembly, with the participation of the people, and based in the initiative of President Hugo Chavez, with its respective titles, chapters, and transitional, derogative, and final dispositions, distributed in the following blocks?"

[Articles in italics are those proposed by the National Assembly, non-italic articles were proposed by the President.]

Block A

Section II. Politico-Territorial Division of the Country: President may declare special military and development zones, citizens have a new "right to the city."

Art. 11 - Allows the President to decree special military regions for the defense of the nation. Also, it would allow him to name military authorities for these regions in a case of emergency.

Art. 16 - Allows the president to decree, with permission from the National Assembly, communal cities, maritime regions, federal territories, federal municipalities, island districts, federal provinces, federal cities, and functional districts. Also the president may name and remove national government authorities for these territorial divisions (these do not, however, supplant the existing elected authorities in these regions).

Art. 18 - Provides a new right, the right to the city, which says that all citizens have the right to equal access to the city's services or benefits. Also names Caracas, the capital as the "Cradle of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, and Queen of the Warairarepano" [an indigenous name for the mountain range surrounding Caracas].

Section III. Citizen Rights and Duties: Voting age lowered to 16 years, gender parity in candidacies, creation of councils of popular power, social security fund for self-employed, reduction of workweek to 36 hours, recognition of Venezuelans of African descent, free university education, introduction of communal and social property.

Art. 64 - Lowers the minimum voting age from 18 to 16 years.

Art. 67 - Requires candidates for elected office to be set up in accordance with gender parity, reverses the prohibition against state financing of campaigns and parties, and prohibits foreign funding of political activity.

Art. 70 - Establishes that councils of popular power (of communities, workers, students, farmers, fishers, youth, women, etc.) are one of the main means for citizen participation in the government.

Art. 87 - Creates a social security fund for the self-employed, in order to guarantee them a pension, vacation pay, sick pay, etc.

Art. 90 - Reduction of the workweek from 44 hours to 36.

Art. 98 - Guarantees freedom for cultural creations, but without guaranteeing intellectual property.

Art. 100 - Recognition of Venezuelans of African descent, as part of Venezuelan culture to protect and promote (in addition to indigenous and European culture).

Art. 103 - Right to a free education expanded from high school to university.

Art. 112 - The state will promote a diversified and independent economic model, in which the interests of the community prevail over individual interests and that guarantee the social and material needs of the people. The state is no longer obliged to promote private enterprise.

Art. 113 - Monopolies are prohibited instead of merely being "not allowed." The state has the right to "reserve" the exploitation of natural resources or provision of services that are considered by the constitution or by a separate law to be strategic to the nation. Concessions granted to private parties must provide adequate benefits to the public.

Art. 115 - Introduces new forms of property, in addition to private property. The new forms are (1) public property, belonging to state bodies, (2) direct and indirect social property, belonging to the society in general, where indirect social property is administered by the state and direct is administered by particular communities, (3) collective property, which belongs to particular groups, (4) mixed property, which can be a combination of ownership of any of the previous five forms.

Section IV. Functions of the State: Creation of popular power based in direct democracy, recognition of missions for alleviating urgent needs, foreign policy to pursue a pluri-polar world, devolution of central, state, and municipal functions to the popular power, guaranteed revenues for the popular power.

Art. 136 - Creates the popular power, in addition to the municipal, state, and national powers. "The people are the depositories of sovereignty and exercise it directly via the popular power. This is not born of suffrage nor any election, but out of the condition of the human groups that are organized as the base of the population." The popular power is organized via communal councils, workers' councils, student councils, farmer councils, crafts councils, fisher councils, sports councils, youth councils, elderly councils, women's councils, disables persons' councils, and others indicated by law.

Art. 141 - The public administration is organized into traditional bureaucracies and missions, which have an ad-hoc character and are designed to address urgent needs of the population.

Art. 152 - Venezuela's foreign policy is directed towards creating a pluri-polar world, free of hegemonies of any imperialist, colonial, or neo-colonial power.

Art. 153 - Strengthening of the mandate to unify Latin America, so as to achieve what Simon Bolivar called, "A Nation of Republics."

Art. 156 - Specifies the powers of the national government, adding powers that are spelled out in earlier and in later articles in greater detail. New powers of the national government include the ordering of the territorial regime of states and municipalities, the creation and suspension of federal territories, the administration of branches of the national economy and their eventual transfer to social, collective, or mixed forms of property, and the promotion, organization, and registering of councils of the popular power.

Art. 157 - The national assembly may attribute to the bodies of the popular power, in addition to those of the federal district, the states, and the municipalities, issues that are of national government competency, so as to promote a participatory and active democracy (instead of promoting decentralization, as was originally stated here).

Art. 158 - The state will promote the active participation of the people, restoring power to the population (instead of decentralizing the state).

Art. 167 - States' incomes are increased from 20% to 25% of the national budget, where 5% is to be dedicated to the financing of each state's communal councils.

Art. 168 - Municipalities are obligated to include in their activities the participation of councils of popular power.

Art. 184 - Decentralization of power, by its transfer from state and municipal level to the communal level, will include the participation of communities in the management of public enterprises. Also, communal councils are defined as the executive arm of direct democratic citizen assemblies, which elect and at any time may revoke the mandates of the communal council members.

Art. 185 - The national government council is no longer presided over by the Vice-President, but by the President. Its members are the President, Vice-President(s), Ministers, and Governors. Participation of mayors and of civil society groups is optional now. Previously the federal governmental council (as it was called) was responsible for coordinating policies on all governmental levels. Now it is an advisory body for the formulation of the national development plan.

Section V. Organization of the State: President may name secondary vice-presidents as needed, presidential term extended and limit on reelection removed, may re-organize internal politico-territorial boundaries, and promotes all military officers.

Art. 225 - The president may designate the number of secondary vice-presidents he or she deems necessary. Previously there was only one Vice-President.

Art. 230 - Presidential term is extended from six to seven years. The two consecutive term limit on presidential reelection is removed.

Art. 236 - New presidential powers as specified in other sections of the reform are listed here, which include the ordering and management of the country's internal political boundaries, the creation and suspension of federal territories, setting the number and naming of secondary vice-presidents (in addition to the first vice-president), promote all officers of the armed forces, and administrate international reserves in coordination with the Central Bank.

Art. 251 - Adds detail to the functioning of the State Council, which advises the president on all matters.

Art. 252 - Composition of the State Council changed to include the heads of each branch of government: executive, judiciary, legislature, citizen power, and electoral power. The president may include representatives of the popular power and others as needed. Previously the council included five representatives designated by the president, one by the National Assembly, one by the judiciary, and one by the state governors.

Art. 272 - Removal of the requirement for the state to create an autonomous penitentiary system and places the entire system under the administration of a ministry instead of states and municipalities. Also, removes the option of privatizing the country's penitentiary system.

Section VI. Socio-Economic System: Weakening of the role of private enterprise in the economic system, possible better treatment of national businesses over foreign ones, no privatization any part of the national oil industry, taxation of idle agricultural land, removal of central bank autonomy.

Art. 299 - The socio-economic regimen of the country is based on socialist (among other) principles. Instead of stipulating that the state promotes development with the help of private initiative, it is to do so with community, social, and personal initiative.

Art. 300 - Rewording of how publicly owned enterprises should be created, to be regionalized and in favor of a "socialist economy", instead of "decentralized."

Art. 301 - Removal of the requirement that foreign businesses receive the same treatment as national businesses, stating that national businesses may receive better treatment.

Art. 302 - Strengthening of the state's right to exploit the country's mineral resources, especially all those related to oil and gas.

Art. 303 - Removal of the permission to privatize subsidiaries of the country's state oil industry that operate within the country.

Art. 305 - If necessary, the state may take over agricultural production in order to guarantee alimentary security and sovereignty.

Art. 307 - Strengthening of the prohibition against latifundios (large and idle landed estates) and creation of a tax on productive agricultural land that is idle. Landowners who engage in the ecological destruction of their land may be expropriated.

Art. 318 - Removal of the Central Bank's autonomy and foreign reserves to be administrated by the Central Bank together with the President.

Art. 320 - The state must defend the economic and monetary stability of the country. Removal of statements on the bank's autonomy.

Art. 321 - Removal of the requirement to set up a macro-economic stabilization fund. Instead, every year the President and the Central Bank establish the level of reserves necessary for the national economy and all "excess reserves" are assigned to a special development and investment fund.

Section VII. National Security: Armed forces to be anti-imperialist, reserves to become a militia.

Art. 328 - Armed forces of Venezuela renamed to "Bolivarian Armed Force." Specification that the military is "patriotic, popular, and anti-imperialist" at the service of the Venezuelan people and never at the service of an oligarchy or of a foreign imperial power, whose professionals are not activists in any political party (modified from the prohibition against all political activity by members of the military).

Art. 329 - Addition of the term "Bolivarian" to each of the branches of the military and renaming of the reserves to "National Bolivarian Militia."

Section VIII. Constitutional changes: Signature requirements increased for citizen-initiated referenda to modify the constitution.

Art. 341 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments from 15% to 20% of registered voters.

Art. 342 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional reforms from 15% to 25% of registered voters.

Art. 348 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional assembly from 15% to 30% of registered voters.

Block "B"

Section III. Citizen Rights and Duties: Non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and health, increase in signature requirements for citizen-initiated referenda, primary home protected from expropriation.

Art. 21 - Inclusion of prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and on health.

Art. 71 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated consultative referenda from 10% to 20% of registered voters.

Art. 72 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated recall referenda from 20% to 30% of registered voters. Also, voter participation set at minimum 40% (previously no minimum was set, other than that at least as many had to vote for the recall as originally voted for the elected official).

Art. 73 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated approbatory referenda from 15% to 30% of registered voters.

Art. 74 - Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated rescinding referenda from 10% to 30% of registered voters. In the case of law decrees, increased from 5% to 30% of registered voters.

Art. 82 - Protection of primary home from confiscation due to bankruptcy or other legal proceedings.

Art. 109 - Equal voting rights for professors, students, and employees in the election of university authorities.

Section IV. Functions of the State: State and local comptrollers appointed by national Comptroller General, political divisions determined on a national instead of state level.

Art. 163 - State comptrollers are to be appointed by the national Comptroller General, not the states, following a process in which organizations of popular power nominate candidates.

Art. 164 - State powers are specified in accordance with other articles of the reform. States can no longer organize the politico-territorial division of municipalities, but only coordinate these.

Art. 173 - Political divisions within municipalities are to be determined by a national law, instead of being in the power of the municipalities. The creation of such divisions is to attend to community initiative, with the objective being the de-concentration of municipal administration.

Art. 176 - The municipal comptroller is to be appointed by the national Comptroller General, not the municipalities, following the nomination of candidates by the organizations of popular power.

Section V. State organization: Councils of popular power participate in the nomination of members of the judiciary, citizen, and electoral powers, procedures for removing members of these branches specified more explicitly.

Art. 191 - National Assembly deputies who the president has called to serve in the executive may return to the National Assembly to finish their term in office once they stop working in the executive. Previously they lost their seat in the assembly.

Art. 264 - Specifies that Supreme Court judges are to be named by a majority of the National Assembly, instead of being left to a law. Also, in addition to civil society groups related to the law profession, representatives of the popular power are to participate in the nomination process.

Art. 265 - Supreme Court judges may be removed from office by a simple majority vote of the National Assembly, instead of a two-thirds majority and an accusation by the citizen power.

Art. 266 - Adds the ability of the Supreme Court to rule on the merits of court proceedings against members of the National Electoral Council, in addition to its ability to do so in the case of all other high-level government officials.

Art. 279 - Includes representatives of popular power councils for the nomination of Attorney General, Comptroller General, and Human Rights Defender. Also, specifies that each of these may be removed by a majority of the National Assembly, instead of leaving the issue to a separate law and a ruling from the Supreme Court.

Art. 289 - Adds to the Comptroller General's powers the ability to name state and municipal comptrollers.

Art. 293 - Removes the National Electoral Council's responsibility to preside over union elections.

Art. 295 - Inclusion of representatives from the Popular Power in the nomination process of members to the National Electoral Council. Specifies that members may be chosen by a majority of National Assembly members, instead of a two-thirds majority. Election of electoral council members is supposed to be staggered now, where three are elected and then halfway through their 7-year term, the other two are to be elected.

Art. 296 - Members of the National Electoral Council may be removed by a majority of National Assembly members, without the need of a prior ruling from the Supreme Court.

Section VIII. Constitutional exceptions: Right to information no longer guaranteed during state of emergency, emergencies to last as long as the conditions that caused it.

Art. 337 - Change in states of emergency, so that the right to information is no longer protected in such instances. Also, the right to due process is removed in favor of the right to defense, to no forced disappearance, to personal integrity, to be judged by one's natural judges, and not to be condemned to over 30 years imprisonment.

Art. 338 - States of alert, emergency, and of interior or exterior commotion are no longer limited to a maximum of 180 days, but are to last as long as conditions persist that motivated the state of exception.

Art. 339 - The Supreme Court's approval for states of exception is no longer necessary, only the approval of the National Assembly.