|On May 12, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros met with foreign guests from more than 35 countries, including organized workers, elected legislators, representatives of political parties, social movements and academics. He was accompanied by members of the Presidential Commission for a Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly was convoked on May 1 by President Maduro as a response to the current political crisis Venezuela is facing and as a basis to establish peace in the country. He issued two presidential decrees which called for the Venezuelan people to “decide the future of the country, reaffirming the principles of independence, sovereignty, equality, peace and participatory, multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural democracy,” and established a Presidential Commission responsible for elaborating the proposal and sorting out the constituent assembly’s functioning.
In the May 12 meeting to explain the process to friends of Venezuela, President Maduro affirmed that, after 18 years of peaceful revolution and popular Bolivarian process, it is now important to renew the Constitution on which this is based. Venezuela is activating the highest power of the Republic to face the crisis and aggression the country is facing and to reconstruct the basis for peace and economic recovery, Maduro said.
“We need to gear towards a process of renewal, refoundation. This can only be done through the forces of the people, through a popular process and constituent process, by the constituent power, which is the only power that could change everything,” he said.
The first Constituent Assembly in Venezuela was convened in 1811, at a time of debates about whether to push for independence from the Spanish Empire or ask for reforms while maintaining the privileges of the Spanish King. A second Constituent Assembly was convened by Simon Bolivar in 1819, taking the Constitution of 1811 as its basis, consolidating the nation’s independence and setting the stage for further victories.
“The constitution that is going to result from this process will have an historic weight as much as 1819. It will be the consolidation of the progress of the revolution,” Maduro told the foreign guests.
Despite the advances, President Maduro explained that Venezuela is now facing violence that seeks to take the country backwards. He referred to similar attacks in 2002, 2004 and 2014, which lasted several months each time. However, despite the fact that the “guarimbas,” riots and street blockades in wealthy neighbourhoods, are more concentrated than in the past and affect only one per cent of the national territory, they are “far more violent than ever before.” There have even been cases where participants have assassinated fellow protestors, he said. President Maduro conveyed his sympathy to all the families of victims and called for mechanisms to do justice and permit reconciliation and unity among Venezuelans. He further urged caution and noted that the violence aims to trigger more violence.
“I prohibited the use of firearms, even small rifles which are allowed by law with rubber bullets,” he affirmed.
There are three main reasons for this “ambush” against Venezuela which took place in April, President Maduro argued. The first is the new Trump administration in the U.S., which has carried out aggressive actions such as the attack on Syria and use of the “Mother Of All Bombs” against Afghanistan and increased pressure on Latin America and Caribbean countries. Secondly, Maduro pointed to the slow recovery of Venezuela’s revolutionary forces following their defeat in the 2015 National Assembly elections. “Our challenge is to build a new Bolivarian majority, and we will do it,” President Maduro affirmed. Third is the serious economic problems Venezuela is facing and efforts to further derail its recovery.
“If there is economic recovery in 2017, consolidation of the Local Food Production and Provision Committees [(CLAPs), which now serve 6 million households] and healing of the wounds of the economic war, [the forces of the oligarchy] know that in 2018 that we will win, because in 2018 there will be Presidential elections,” President Maduro said.
President Maduro also explained the proposal for the Constituent Assembly currently before the Commission. It is to be elected directly by means of universal and secret ballot according to the voter registry. Half of its membership of 500 will be territorial representatives and half sectoral representatives. The working class will have the largest number of sectoral representatives, 100 people elected in the factories and other workplaces. Other recognized sectors with representation elected from amongst their peers will be small farmers and fishers, communes and social missions, youth, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, businesspeople, cultural workers and pensioners.
The strategy of calling a Constituent Assembly was the result of “intense debate in the political leadership of the revolution,” Maduro said, and it aims to “break the strategy of national and international foes. What were the options open to us? [Counter-revolutionaries] have decided to assault power via the rebellion in the streets. Until when, only God knows. The vast majority of this country, more than 80 per cent, reject the violence. We will move to a new horizon of peace through the Constituent Assembly,” Maduro said.
The Constituent Assembly is “the spear in order to move the country forward and solve and address national threats. This is the option that will allow us to solve the social, political and economic problems through national dialogue, in order to start overcoming the coup attempts and imperial intervention,” Maduro said.
President Maduro announced the decision to convene a Constituent Assembly at the May Day rally in the capital, Caracas, following which the Presidential Commission began its work convening meetings with all the sectors and collectives of the Venezuelan people. The Commission has met with representatives of organized workers, women, students, seniors, communes, media, diplomatic corps, more than 17 political parties, small farmers and fishers, business people, religious institutions, people with disabilities, heads of universities and others and received their proposals and views. As well, mass meetings and rallies are being held throughout the country. All political forces in the country have been formally invited to join and present their proposals.
1. The President of the Commission is Elías Jaua, former Vice-President of Venezuela. Its members are Aristobulo Isturiz, Hermann Escarra, Isaias Rodriguez, Earle Herrera, Cilia Flores, Delcy Rodriguez, Iris Varela, Noeli Pocaterra, Francisco Ameliah, Elvis Amoroso and Reinaldo Munoz.
2. The Decrees were published in the country’s Official Gazette convening and setting the parameters for a National Constituent Assembly according to Articles 348, 347, 70 and 236.1 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Article 347 states that the “original constituent power rests with the people of Venezuela,” and that this power can be exercised “for the purpose of transforming the State, creating a new juridical order and drawing up a new Constitution.”
3. This constituent process was activated for the first time in Venezuela’s modern history by President Hugo Chávez in 1999. The constitution of 1961 did not allow the people to be convened or renew the constitution, and President Chávez was able to establish a Constituent Assembly only on the basis of a consultative referendum with the parameters set by the country’s Supreme Court. The 1999 constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, taking this into account not only permits a constitutional assembly to be called (by means of initiative by the President, other levels of government or by citizens) but prohibits the President from objecting to its results or any state authority from impeding its work (Articles 348 and 349).
4. As well, the Presidential Commission will consider nine “programmatic objectives” for the new Constituent Assembly:
i. Peace as the need, right and yearning of the nation;
ii. Improving the national economic system towards realizing Venezuela’s potential;
iii. Constitutional recognition of social programs and missions;
iv. Strengthening the ability of the justice system and eradicating impunity;
v. Constitutional recognition for the new forms of participatory and protagontistic democracy, including through communes and communal councils as well as workers’ councils;
vi. Defence of the sovereignty and integrity of the nation and defence against external interventionism;
vii. Reaffirmation of the pluri-cultural character of the homeland;
viii. Guaranteeing the future of the youth;
viv. Preservation of life and the planet.