On July 30th, Venezuelans will elect a people’s body called the “Constituent Assembly” comprised of hundreds of representatives across the country with the power to redraft the constitution.
U.S. politicians, press and opposition in Venezuela are calling the process a “coup” that should be boycotted by all.
Abby Martin addresses the criticisms with Head of the Presidential Commission to oversee the Constituent Assembly process, Elias Jaua, speaks to supporters and participants of the Assembly, interviews historian Chris Gilbert and explains what is at stake in Venezuela if the social programs instated under Chavez are terminated by the opposition.
Constituent Assembly Dictatorship or Democracy in Venezuela?
On July 30th Venezuelans will elect a large citizen body called the Constituent Assembly. This group of 537 Venezuelans, representing multiple sectors and municipalities, will have the power to redraft the constitution. The main charge currently being levied at the government by the opposition is that it is a dictatorship, claiming the Constituent Assembly is a power grab while U.S. politicians and press allege it to be part of a coup attempt. In reality, the democratically elected assembly will only successfully draft constitutional amendments after all Venezuelans are presented a chance to vote on the changes.
What exactly is the Constituent Assembly and in what ways does it pose a threat to Venezuela’s democracy? Abby Martin traveled Venezuela to find out.
While in Venezuela, Abby witnessed numerous street actions held to generate support for the Assembly and attended two public mass meetings explaining how Venezuelans can be involved in the democratic process– Maduro calls it a peaceful solution to the recent violence. Those putting their hope in this democratic process are calling for a peaceful dialogue with the opposition. In stark contrast, opposition leaders are making charged statements, claiming that “Venezuela will be lost” if the Constituent Assembly is successful. Outside players are not hesitant to get involved. In fact, Marco Rubio, vocal in his threats of issuing sanctions on the country if the Assembly proceeds, claims the process is a theft of democracy.
Supporters of Venezuela’s current government are prepared to amend the constitution in a way that protects current programs that are vital to the well-being of numerous Venezuelans, especially those who are struggling. This massive movement places emphasis on the person and the well-being of the family– it is “a revolution of peace, revolution of love” according to one supporter interviewed.
The opposition has gone so far as to respond with additional violence by targeting participants in the Assembly. Recently, on July 10th, a Chavista running as a delegate was murdered when he was shot 8 times. They claim the assembly could rewrite the laws to exclude their preferred parties and instead of boosting their own candidates that support their platform, they are calling for all Venezuelans to boycott this constitutionally allowed political process.
The current constitution of Venezuela makes it possible to active the Constituent Assembly when necessary. All candidates are independent and not nominated by political parties. The election process is seemingly fair and encompasses a vast array of different cultural and economic sectors, with 50% of participants chosen based on location and 50% chosen by secret vote in 8 sectors that include workers, students, indigenous, employers, disabled, seniors, farmers and fisherfolk for a total of 6,120 candidates.
“Revolutionary men and women are invisible to foreign media.”
Despite this fact, the specifics of the process, and the large numbers of government supports eager to participate in the Assembly, are largely absent from the media. The fact that the current constitution emphasizes family and aims to provide a means for all families to live a dignified life is rarely addressed or acknowledged.
The programs that many Venezuelans are eager to protect via the Assembly are called “missions.” There are over two dozen of these missions that were created by Chavez and there is a valid fear the opposition will repeal these programs if they gain control of the government. The missions provide necessary tools and support for Venezuelans from all walks of life. For example, Mission Sucre provides free higher education, Mission Musica provides musical instruments and lessons to youth, there is a mission to provide free healthcare for the low income community and another mission that has provided 1.6 million homes for low income Venezuelans. These missions have sustained the revolutionary spirit of Venezuela for the past 18 years and they will not be given up on without a fight.
These programs have led to a dramatic drop in poverty in Venezuela. Poverty fell from 43% to 26%– with extreme poverty falling from 17% to less than 7%. In addition to the drops in poverty rates, college attendance more than quadrupled, grade school attendance doubled and infant mortality dropped a shocking 50%. Many Venezuelans are rightfully fearful that these statistics will shift under opposition control.
The opposition has vocalized their own plans for missions, some of which include privatizing the programs. While humans are at the center of the current government model laid out by Chavez, money is seemingly at the center of the opposition model. There are numerous examples the world over for why this is not a successful strategy. Despite frequent invitations to be a part of this political process, the opposition continues to reject the idea. If the majority of society supports the opposition, as they claim, there should be nothing to fear in the opposition’s participation.
So it seems the Constituent Assembly does not pose a threat to Venezuela’s democracy at all. What it does do is pose a threat to the increase in capitalism and privatization that the opposition, the bourgeois class, is seeking. Do not be mistaken– a class war has erupted in Venezuela and the opposition is on the wrong side of history.
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